A Lifetime Is Not Enough To Do It All: 6 Arizona Destinations for Winter Fun

To start your planning we’ve picked some of the top destinations for fun this winter in Arizona

Many snowbirds wintering in the Grand Canyon State flock to Tucson, Yuma, or the Phoenix metro area. Regardless of where you roost this season, Arizona has plenty of options for winter fun outside these metro areas.

While the bounty of outdoor recreation opportunities might be too much for a lifetime, it will assure you that your days in the Arizona sun will have plenty of action.

For starters:

Superstition Wilderness

Hiking Peralta Trail into the Superstitions © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Superstitions, looming east of Apache Junction, are the largest of the mountain ranges ringing Phoenix. Stretching 24 miles east and west and 9 to 12 miles north and south, the wilderness is crossed by trails ranging from flat and easy to steep and strenuous. The 160,200-acre wilderness area, part of Tonto National Forest, contains one of the state’s most popular trails—the Peralta—yet the vast interior of the Superstitions boasts some of the state’s most rugged, seldom-seen territory.

Apache Trail

Along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail through the Superstition Mountains was built to supply construction workers building Roosevelt Dam in the early 1900s. Saguaro-covered hills and deep canyons stretch for miles, broken by red-rock cliffs and hoodoos.

Along Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area is a favorite of sightseers, boaters, hikers, and anglers. The Apache Trail, aka State Route 88, is not for the squeamish or those afraid of heights. It’s full of twists and turns, rising and falling with the hills and valleys. Part of the road is paved; the graded dirt stretch is suitable for most cars but not recommended for large RVs.

Casa Grande Ruins National Monument

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. They laid down 1,000 miles of irrigation canals in the Salt River Valley, a network that eventually supported enough fields to feed about 40,000 people. The monument preserves 60 prehistoric sites, including a four-story earthen structure. Interpretive walking tours and exhibits are available.

Estrella Mountain Regional Park

Estrella Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s something that no other park in the Maricopa County system has: 65 acres of grassy picnic space. In addition to picnicking, the park has close to 20,000 acres of desert topography for hikers, bicyclists, joggers, and horseback riders. Duffers can try the links at Tres Rios Golf Course, and fishermen can catch and release along the Gila River, which runs through the park.

Tubac

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and restaurants lining its meandering streets. A quaint haven for artists, Tubac was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona.

Tubac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A half day can easily disappear wandering amongst this wealth of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography, as well as unique regional fashion, leather, crafts, antiques, and jewelry.

Tubac Presidio State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in Tubac’s Old Town, Tubac Presidio State Historic Park offers a fascinating look at the history of the Santa Cruz Valley.

Madera Canyon

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands, the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Madera Canyon, with active springs and a seasonal creek, is a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita Mountains and Madera Canyon. Beneath the shade of the trees, Madera Creek tumbles over bedrock and boulder. Water and stream-borne sediment gradually grind rocks to gravel, gravel to pebbles, and pebbles to sand.

Worth Pondering…

A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

Why Tucson Is Your Next Great Outdoor Adventure

With 350 sunny days each year, Tucson is one of the sunniest cities in America. It’s also a superb desert to take in the great outdoors.

From cactus-spotting in Saguaro National Park and biking down Mount Lemmon to mountains on all four sides and southwestern sunsets that seemingly last forever, Tucson is brimming with outdoor adventures—even skiing!

Here’s what you can expect before planning your first (or next) visit.

The cactus capital of the world

Forest of saguaros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson is known for its “friendly green giants,” a.k.a. saguaro (pronounced “suh-wah-roe”) cacti that dominate the landscape. Whether you travel to the nearby national park or not, you will encounter them everywhere you turn, and you’ll be sure to admire both their height (up to 50 feet tall) and wondrous presence.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You can drive, hike, or bike among them and when seen at sunset or sunrise, they take on a timeless presence. In fact, they can live for over 200 years in ideal conditions.

Two national parks (sort of)

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the turn of the century, National Geographic endeavored to rank every national park in America. Much to the chagrin of the Grand Canyon, Saguaro National Park took the number one ranking.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why? Navigating through towering green cacti that appear alive and guardian-like is a surreal experience. You’ll never see one move, but their stature suggests they’re about ready to step across the horizon. The park is split into two districts, each with its own unique activities and topography. For more dense cacti, head to West Unit. For paved scenic drives closer to the mountains, head to Saguaro East.

Die-hard desert museum

Hawk demonstration at Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to the extreme temperatures and lack of water, it takes one tough cookie to survive the Sonora Desert. That fight for survival is on full display at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a 98-acre outdoor zoo, indoor aquarium, botanical garden, and natural history museum not far from the west entrance of Saguaro National Park.

Gila monster at Arizona-Senora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With two miles of designated trails, shade cover, and ice cream on site, it’s an enlightening way to soak in both state and Tucson history.

Old West sunsets

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You know those postcard photos of silhouetted cacti and palms in the foreground of a radiant pink-orange sky? That’s everyday life in Tucson with the mountains off to the west. For ideal views, head to Sabino Canyon on the northeast edge of Tucson. Simply put, the clementine and purple sunsets here are amazing—some of the best we’ve ever seen.

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tram routes provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along the Sabino route riders are free to get off at one of the nine shuttle stops, do a little birding, have a picnic, or spend time along one of the many pools and cascades that grace Sabino Creek.

Magnificent hiking

Hiking at Catalina State Park northwest of Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ringed by four mountain ranges with magical names—the Santa Catalina to the north, the Santa Rita to the south, the Rincon to the east, and the Tucson to the west—the city of Tucson is surrounded by trails. Each one winds through the rugged and sometimes otherworldly landscape of the Sonoran Desert, where saguaro cacti stand like sentinels in the sand and ancient canyons await exploration.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are many trails from which to choose, but the ones most beloved by Tucsonians are those that run through Sabino Canyon. Nestled in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas, Sabino has long been an oasis in the desert.

A striking sight

Mission San Xavier del Bac © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the vast Sonoran Desert on an Indian reservation just nine miles southwest of Tucson, one would not expect to find a beautiful church. Mission San Xavier del Bac is a place both historical and sacred that no visitor to Southern Arizona should miss. Fondly known as the “White Dove of the Desert”, San Xavier is one of the finest examples of Spanish colonial architecture in the United States.

Beating the heat

Driving Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When the temperatures start to rise, head to Mount Lemmon which is about an hour’s drive north of downtown. From there you can enjoy 9,000 feet hiking elevations and temperatures up to 30 degrees cooler than the valley.

Mount Lemmon Ski Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In winter, you can also enjoy budget-friendly skiing at the well-rated but small Mount Lemmon Ski Valley. With nearly 200 inches of annual snowfall and regular snowstorms, you can always find fresh powder stashes and light traffic.

Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Tucson had opened my eyes to the world and given me… a taste for the sensory extravagance of red hot chiles and five-alarm sunsets.

—Barbara Kingsolver

A Lovely Name for a Lovely River: Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River carves a winding, four-mile path through the state park

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park owes its name and existence to one of the most scenic and popular recreational rivers in Texas. When Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon encountered the clear-flowing stream in 1689, he named it Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico). The Guadalupe: a lovely name for a lovely river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River might be just another typical Hill Country state park were it not for the exceptional public access it provides to a river whose banks are mostly private property. The park is also unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 98 percent of the park guests go straight to the river and never step foot on the trails. The river is what attracts people, and that’s why the park was established.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If some 98 percent of Guadalupe River State Park’s visitors flock to the swimming hole on the Guadalupe, we’re happy to be a “two-percenter” and explore the rest of the park.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nationally recognized for birding, the state park harbors some 160 bird species. Depending on the season, expect to see—or hear—bluebirds, cardinals, canyon and Carolina wrens, white-eyed vireos, yellow-crested woodpeckers, kingfishers, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and red-shouldered hawks.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a combination of good birdwatching and gorgeous scenery, try hiking along the river through riparian galleries of bald cypress, sycamore, elm, and pecan.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. Some of these arboreal monarchs are several centuries old and have weathered countless flash floods. The bald cypress is aptly named because it’s a deciduous conifer (most are evergreen), turning rust brown, dropping its feathery leaves, and “going bald” each fall.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $20-$24 plus the $7 per person park entrance fee. In the Cedar Sage Camping Area, 37 campsites offer 30-amp electric service and water for $20 nightly; in the Turkey Sink multiuse area 48 campsites offer 50-amp electric service and water for $24. Weekly rates are also available.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Texas State Park Pass will allow you and your guests to enjoy unlimited visits for 1-year to more than 90 State Parks, without paying the daily entrance fee, in addition to other benefits. A Texas State Parks Pass is valid for one year and costs $70.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park is located 30 miles north of downtown San Antonio. From US 281, travel 8 miles west on Texas 46 and then 3 miles north on Park Road 31.

The parkland along the Guadalupe River is indeed good country.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See it, believe it, for yourself.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

Now Visible On Google Street View: Arizona State Parks

Get a sneak peek of Arizona’s State Parks and Trails with new Google maps

If you’re going to take advantage of this cooler weather by heading out for a hike, Arizona State Parks and Trails have a new virtual tool to help you plan your trip. Imagine seeing your favorite Arizona state park or trail before you head out, giving you the chance to plan your hike or view your campsite.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails partnered with Google earlier this year to make that happen. Nearly 200 miles of trails throughout all of Arizona’s state parks are now visible using the Street View function on Google Maps.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails staff used the Google R7 Trekker Camera to capture 360 views of all state parks and more than 175 miles of trails in and connecting to the state parks across Arizona. The data is now live on Google Earth and Google Maps enabling visitors to see trail conditions and plan the perfect hiking adventure or preview the beauty of a park before planning a weekend adventure. Use of the camera was free after Parks submitted a request and detailed information about which trails would be documented.

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over six weeks, staff hiked more than 200 miles carrying the Trekker which weighs 45 pounds and includes 15 individual lenses to capture a 360-degree view of each trail and park. The data will help visitors understand the difficulty of trails, topography, and what to expect to see along the route, as well as the accessibility of the trail and the layout of the park. The project also had the added value of identifying any trails in need of maintenance or repair in the park system. 

Dead Horse Ranch State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Google has now processed and uploaded this park data to the existing Earth and Maps databases for free use by the public. The information can also afford people the opportunity to take a virtual tour of a trail without having to physically climb or travel.

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s just a really neat way for people to navigate from their desk and see what we have to offer,” said Michelle Thompson, with Arizona State Parks and Trails in a news release. “If they were looking at something and they wanted to say, ‘Is this a hike I’d be able to accomplish? Is this going to be too difficult for me? What does the park look like? Should I make the drive?’ Then that’s all something that they can see.” 

Sonoita Creek State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s how to use this amazing virtual tool.

1. Google a state park you’re interested in checking out. For example, search Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park and click “maps.”

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Zoom in on the park. You see the little yellow person in the bottom right of your screen? Click on it and drag to the trail. While dragging, the trail will illuminate in blue. Set the figure down and you have entered “street view” mode.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Your ground level point of view will include white arrows. Click on these arrows to follow the trail. You may also toggle your view in 360-degrees to check out the world around you. 

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona State Parks and Trails manage and conserve 35 natural, cultural, and recreational areas. Here are several of our favorites.

Catalina State Park 

Catalina State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors traveling along I-10 in southern Arizona can’t miss the prominent 1,500-foot peak of Picacho Peak State Park. Enjoy the view as you hike the trails that wind up the peak and, often in the spring, overlook a sea of wildflowers.

Red Rock State Park 

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock State Park is a 286 acre nature preserve and environmental education center with stunning scenery. Trails throughout the park wind through manzanita and juniper to reach the rich banks of Oak Creek. Green meadows are framed by native vegetation and hills of red rock.

Lost Dutchman State Park

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named after the fabled lost gold mine, Lost Dutchman State Park is located in the Sonoran Desert just east of Apache Junction. Several trails lead from the park into the Superstition Wilderness and surrounding Tonto National Forest.

Worth Pondering…

This was as the desert should be, this was the desert of the picture books, with the land unrolled to the farthest distant horizon hills, with saguaros standing sentinel in their strange chessboard pattern, towering supinely above the fans of ocotillo and brushy mesquite.

—Dorothy B. Hughes

Laura S. Walker State Park: A Place to Reconnect With Nature

Wander among the pines at Laura S. Walker, the first state park named for a woman

Situated deep in South Georgia just outside of Waycross and a short drive from the Okefenokee Swamp, this grass-filled blackwater lake sprawls for roughly 120 acres inside of the beautiful Laura S. Walker State Park.

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

Laura S. Walker State Park is home to many fascinating creatures and plants including alligators and carnivorous pitcher plants. The park is an oasis that shares many features with the unique Okefenokee Swamp where you can enjoy the serene lake, play rounds on a championship golf course, and stroll along the trails and natural communities in this southeast Georgia haven.

Walking or biking along the lake’s edge and nature trail, visitors may spot the shy gopher tortoise, numerous oak varieties, saw palmettos, yellow shafted flickers, warblers, owls, and great blue herons. The park’s lake offers opportunities for fishing, swimming, and boating.

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

The Lakes, a championship 18-hole golf course, features a clubhouse, golf pro, and junior/senior rates. Greens are undulating rather than tiered. Each fairway and landing area is defined with gentle, links-style mounds that accent the course’s three large lakes.

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

The park’s namesake was a Georgia writer, teacher, civic leader, and naturalist who loved trees and worked for their preservation. Laura Singleton Walker was born in Milledgeville, Georgia in 1861. She was both an author and a conservationist. Her friends included military and community leaders as well as presidents and governors. Her civic works and commitment to helping the environment led her to outline a forestry activity program that made many local conservation and beautification projects possible.

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

She worked to educate the public about the importance of protecting the environment and maintaining forestry programs. She also had the distinction of being the only living person with a state park named in her honor. Ms. Walker worked tirelessly throughout Ware County and the surrounding areas until her death in 1955 at the age of 94.

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

The park is designed to allow visitors to get the most out of the time they spend in nature. For those who want to see wildlife, they won’t be disappointed. The park is home to owls, great blue herons, gopher tortoises, alligators, and many other animals. It also hosts a variety of activities each year with the Friends of Laura S. Walker State Park volunteering their time to maintain the area and perform fundraisers.

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

For years, the lake has remained popular with boaters, skiers, and jet skiers, but during the last couple of years the area has become popular with bass and crappie anglers. 

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

The 44-site campground offers numerous sites suitable for big rigs. All sites include electric service. Site-specific information is available on the park’s website. Other facilities available for rent include six Sportsman’s Cabins (sleeps 6), seven picnic shelters, four group shelters (seats 75-165), one group camp (sleeps 142), and one gazebo. Other related amenities include a playground, a dog park, boat ramp, kayak and bike rentals, four miles of hiking trails, wildlife observation platform, and Wi-Fi.

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

Ranger Dave Jordan has been with the Department of Natural Resources for 25 years. He was appointed as the Ranger of Laura S. Walker State Park several years ago. He says, “One of the greatest opportunities we have at this park is to continue our public outreach to the folks in the community.”

Ranger Jordan relies on the Friends of the Laura S. Walker State Park to volunteer their time and help raise money that is needed to cover the extras. They meet on the first Monday night of the month. The Friends group raises money, purchases needed items, and donates them to the park.

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

In 2017, the park received the Certificate of Excellence from TripAdvisor and is well-known throughout the area for its amenities and friendly staff.

The park is located at 5653 Laura Walker Road in Waycross, Georgia.

Worth Pondering…

If the simple things of nature have a message that you understand, rejoice, for your soul is alive.

—Eleonora Duse

Unplug & Recharge

Take a walk in the woods for better health

To “unplug” used to mean take a step away from your daily routine and forget about life’s worries. It also means something more literal—to pull the cord on the electronics in your life, turn off your dang phone, stop checking texts and email, and get off the ’gram.

Pinnacles National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This all is increasingly difficult to do, but it’s critical. Our digital life connects us in ways never before seen, but it also has health ramifications, from psychological addiction to disrupted sleep.

In Cheryl Strayed’s bestselling memoir, Wild, her mom tells her that the cure for much of what ails her is to “put [herself] in the way of beauty.”

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

Turns out she was right, at least according to the latest science. Time in nature is an antidote to the ill effects of stress, prevents, and in some cases even helps cure anxiety and depression and enhances creativity. Though the exact causal mechanisms are not yet known, researchers speculate there is something unique about nature—perhaps related to the fact that we evolved to be in it—that puts both our bodies and minds at ease, promoting physical and psychological restoration and subsequent functioning.

Cherohola Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Long before smartphones and self-driving cars, Japan deemed “forest bathing” an essential part of its national health program. With forest bathing, the soaking isn’t literal. Bathing takes on a new meaning—immersing oneself in the natural environment.

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concept stems from Japanese Shinrin-Yoku Forest Therapy and goes back to 1982. Over three decades later, the goal of forest bathing is still to reintroduce people to the healing power of nature. Much study and research has confirmed what the Japanese have long believed—nature benefits wellbeing in many ways.

Holmes County, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 19th century, Henry David Thoreau wrote about the problems of modern society, the importance of nature, and restorative benefits of spending time outdoors. “We need the tonic of wildness,” he wrote in Walden, after spending two years in the woods.

Lackawanna State Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here in the 21st century, an increasing number of health experts agree with Thoreau. The varied physical and mental health benefits that seem to come with spending time in the woods or other wild and green settings is the subject of an increasing body of study and some scientific research.

Jasper National Park, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A good old walk in the woods has been credited with reducing blood pressure, heart rate and anxiety, while improving mental health, cognitive abilities, and sleep patterns. Yet the average American spends just 7 percent of their lives outdoors. Looking for some new and exciting ways to reconnect with nature alongside friends and family?

Hiking to Clingman Dome, Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go for a hike. There are a lot of places where you can hike—parks, trails, nature preserves. You’ll be out in nature, so it’s a great way to enjoy different types of plants and animals. Hiking usually requires that you move uphill, so it’s good exercise, too.

Hiking Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As Winnie-the-Pooh once wisely said, “When you see someone putting on his Big Boots, you can be pretty sure that an adventure is going to happen.” Whether it’s hiking in the Smoky Mountains, the Sierras, or the Rocky Mountains, follow the thoughtful bear’s sage advice and pack your biggest, comfiest boots for a real adventure.

Photography at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take photos. Taking photos outside requires that you focus in on the nature around you. Look for unusual colors, patterns, or birds to photograph. A botanical garden is a great place to visit to take photos, because the displays are usually arranged in eye-catching ways. You can also visit a nature preserve or wildlife refuge and look for photo opportunities with animals or plant life.

Biking the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take Up a New Outdoor Hobby. Hiking, biking, camping, canoeing, fishing, and photography are all great hobbies that will get you outdoors and moving. But if you’re looking for something a little more exciting try mountain biking.

Camping in Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mountain biking in Utah is an endless-crazy-fun adventure. Head to the mountains or red rock desert trails. Singletracks, dirt roads, steep climbs, and rolling hills dominate the state’s beautiful landscape. Mountain biking is an invigorating and intimate way to experience the west. Located just north of Moab, Slickrock is perhaps the most popular mountain bike trail in the world boasting over 100,000 visitors per year.

Get Healthy, Get Outdoors

Rockport, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Find time today to venture outside and take advantage of the health benefits of the outdoors. Replace time spent inside on electronic devices with a bike ride or a walk to a local park. Take up forest bathing or gardening as a new hobby. And remember outdoor recreation can be enjoyed alone or as a family.

Reconnecting with nature in Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s no wrong way to get outside and so much to be gained by exploring the natural world. You know why being outside is important. It’s time to reconnect with nature. Your body and mind will thank you for it later.

Worth Pondering…

We can never have enough of nature.

—Henry David Thoreau

A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Canyonlands invites you to explore a wilderness of countless canyons and fantastically formed buttes carved by the Colorado River and its tributaries

When visitors come to Moab they usually search out the famous arches of Arches National Park, the world-renowned mountain biking, or the amazing river rafting. Canyonlands National Park seems to be an afterthought to many people. “Oh, there’s another national park here? Cool, let’s drive out there for a couple of hours to check it out.” 

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Located to the west of the town of Moab and a short distance from Arches, Canyonlands National Park is wild and wonderful and diverse in its landscapes and travel opportunities. Rivers divide the park into four districts: Island in the Sky, The Needles, The Maze, and the rivers themselves. These areas share a primitive desert atmosphere, but each offers different opportunities for sightseeing, photography, and adventure.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Imagine wave after wave of deep canyons, towering mesas, pinnacles, cliffs, and spires stretching across 527 square miles. This is Canyonlands National Park, formed by the currents and tributaries of Utah’s Green and Colorado rivers. Canyonlands is home to many different types of travel experiences, from solitude in the more remote stretches of the park to hikes through the Needles district to the opportunity to create your own version of one of the West’s most photographed landforms, Mesa Arch.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

In Canyonlands, opportunities abound for day hiking and backpacking. Mountain bikers can tackle challenging dirt roads that lead through the heart of the park. The Needles district has more hiking trails (about 74 miles) and a better variety of trails than the Island in the Sky and Maze districts. In addition, this area is, in general, set up and managed for hikers with lots of loop trails and a good selection of easy or moderate hiking options as well as backpacking opportunities. Most trails have sections of slickrock, so get used to following cairns.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Canyonlands National Park is also a great place to view incredible scenery from the paved roads that lead to awe-inspiring viewpoints. The well-marked turnoff for the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands is on the left at Highway 313, 6 miles north of the Arches turnoff on U.S. 191 north of Moab. A few miles along Highway 313, note on the right Monitor and Merrimac Buttes, looking like their namesake Civil War ships.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Eventually you come to a prominent fork: left it is 4 miles to Dead Horse State Park, straight is 4.5 miles to Canyonlands Island in the Sky. Dead Horse Point is, like Island in the Sky, an isolated promontory of stone jutting out over the deep gorge of the Colorado River. The overlook provides some of the most famous views in the region, especially of the Colorado River 2,000 feet below. It is well worth a side trip.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park has about 10 miles of paved roads. The longest branch of the paved road leads to Big Spring Canyon Overlook. Along the way are several stops at man-made or geological points of interest. You will drive in on the Indian Creek Scenic Byway; make sure you stop at Newspaper Rock before you get to Canyonlands. It is one of the better roadside rock-art viewing sites in the Southwest. A 50-foot-high sandstone face is covered with a variety of fine petroglyphs from several periods.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

For those staying overnight, Canyonlands offers some of the most peaceful campgrounds you will ever find.

Camping in Canyonlands National Park is a great way to enjoy a fun family vacation and share an intimate experience with the landscape. Plus you’ll be out there in the early morning and late evening when the light is amazing, especially for photography enthusiasts.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Squaw Flat Campground is located 3 miles west of the Needles entrance station. The campground here has 26 sites available on a first-come, first-served basis for $15 per night. The campground has electrical hookups, drinking water, fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, ADA sites, and flush and vault toilets.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

The smaller Willow Flat Campground is located about 9 miles southwest of the Island in the Sky entrance station. Willow Flat has no water, so come prepared. There are 12 basic sites (first-come, first-served, $10 per night) with fire pits, picnic tables, tent pads, and vault toilets. Junipers and piñon pines decorate this small campground, which is a good place from which to explore the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands. A number of trails lead to striking vistas, arches, and other geologic wonders.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

There is also a campground at Dead Horse Point State Park, reached by turning east of UT 313 before you enter Canyonlands northern entrance. The campground here has electrical hookups and water, and, unlike the first-come-first-served national park campgrounds, you can use your credit card to reserve a site.

Canyonlands Islands in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Do yourself a favor and don’t hurry through the park. Instead, take your time and let the nature of Canyonlands sneak up on you and take root in your heart. It’s quite likely you’ll become so attached to the place that you’ll have to return again and again and again.

Canyonlands Needles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserve

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

What Is Birding?

Your life is going to be better with birds in it

If you had asked me a decade ago about birding, I would have said, “What is birding?”

I knew about some of the more common birds including chickadees, robins, finches, and blue jays, but had no idea birding was an activity people did together in an organized fashion.

Western scrub jay at Catalina State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the US, Canada, and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.

Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability. It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.

Roseate spoonbills on the Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using one or more field guides is also recommended. The choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process information.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder. The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in the US and Canada. Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done. 

Wood storks at Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to a US Fish & Wildlife Service study on the demographics and economic impact of birding, birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s economy. One in five Americans has an active interest in birding. Some 47 million bird watchers, ages 16 and older, spend nearly $107 billion on travel and equipment related to bird watching.

Gambel’s Quail at Usery Mountain Regional Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Washington State alone, wildlife viewing and photography adds more than $5 billion each year to the state and local economy.

About 88 percent focus mainly on backyard birding. But some extreme listers travel extensively in search of rare birds for their life lists.

Great Kiskadee at Edinburgh Wetlands World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The legendary birder Phoebe Snetsinger became obsessed with bird watching when she learned she had only one year to live—she was diagnosed with terminal melanoma in 1981. Living another 18 years, she fervently observed birds across the globe setting a world record of 8,398 bird species before her death in a 1999 car accident in Madagascar.

Ring-necked duck at Gilbert Riperan Preserve at Water Ranch, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Others, like master birder Connie Sidles, find endless joy in daily visits to one favorite spot. She has written two books describing the natural beauty and wonder she finds at the Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area), a premier birding oasis in Seattle. The “fill” is a former landfill located in the heart of northeast Seattle on the banks of Lake Washington.

Pauraque at Estero Llano Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

People give different answers when asked what drew them to bird watching. For most, it starts with the simple aesthetic pleasure of enjoying the grace and beauty of birds and sharing the experience with family and friends.

Ibis at Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife viewing is among the most popular forms of outdoor recreation, and birds are the most visible and accessible form of wildlife, especially in urban and residential areas. You can even enjoy them from the comfort of your own home.

Royal terns at Padre Island National Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birds also symbolize freedom for many because they fly with such ease. For some, it has spiritual qualities and evokes feelings of peace and tranquility. It’s healthful and restful and no doubt good for your blood pressure and general well-being.

Snow geese at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their exquisite plumage and vivacious songs enliven our sense of the magnificence and beauty of the world we share. Our love affair with birds connects us with the simple bliss of being alive and feeling at home in the natural world.

Plain chachalaca at Santa Ana National Wildlife Refuge, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like many pursuits, birding embraces a whole subculture, with many levels of expertise and intensity. For some, it is highly competitive. For others, bird watching involves serious study of physiology, behavior, and the role of birds in the ecosystem.

Vermilion flycatcher at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For many, like us, it’s a pathway into the natural world by combining photography and RV travel with birding.

Altamira oriole at Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my motorhome with quality photos.

Redhead at Padre Island World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

Hidden Benefits of Camping

If you regularly camp out, you’ll enjoy dozens of significant health benefits

As long as campers set themselves up for a relaxing getaway, the potential for a stress-reducing trip is very attainable. When we go camping we spend most of our time outside. Mentally focusing on all the things that make you feel great outside can do wonders for your mind, body, and soul. Life pauses and stress levels drop making it a fantastic time for your body to have a break.

Camping in Badlands National Park, South Dakota © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we go camping we simplify, subtract, and strip back from our normal cluttered and hectic daily lives. This gives us more opportunity to get in touch with nature, find some solitude and time to switch off, and simply to breath.

Camping at Edisto State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This space and clarity allows us to see everything in natures playground, listen to it speak, and be reminded of how amazing it all is. This in turn helps us put everything else into perspective.

Being outside in the fresh air also seems to heighten our senses, which can bring more rewards. Food tastes better, air smells cleaner, and the birds and nature sound clearer.

Camping at Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A byproduct of camping is the physical nature of setting up the camp, hiking, and typical environment enjoyment.

Leave your worries behind you. Focus on the simplicity of your current situation without reflecting on work, concerns, or anything else that may negatively affect your experience.

Camping at Lost Dutchman State Park, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Appreciate the small, seemingly insignificant parts of the living world around you: light shining through a dew droplet just before it crashes to the ground, or maybe the simple elegance of a butterfly as it flutters from flower to flower. Notice how the slight breeze affects its flight, yet not its mission.

Camping in Palm Canyon Campground, Anza-Borrego State Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The feeling of being calm, appreciating the simple things in life, and knowing that things do not have to be complex all the time allows one to have a more positive and clearer outlook or perspective in life. Camping also gives an emotional rest from all the emotional expense from the usual day to day life.

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

Ensure your gear is organized and in working order before your trip. Eliminate all potentially frustrating situations prior to your adventure.

There is nothing worse than having a camping trip ruined by a scraped knee. Bring along a basic first-aid kit outfitted with bandages, gauze, and anti-bacterial cream. Also make sure it has insect repellent and some cream to help relieve the itch of bug bites.

Camping at My Old Kentucky Home State Park, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a walk, ride a bike, or sit on the edge of a lake or river to clear your mind. Simply focus on the “here and now” to get the most out of your experience. 

Camping will not only get you outdoors and enjoy nature, but it also has some awesome impacts on your health.

Camping at Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Modern life as we know it is full of the Internet, social media, work, demands, mobile phones, pressure, and deadlines. This has an impact on our bodies by getting it to produce extra adrenalin to deal with it all. Having this reaction is normal since the body is built to deal with it, however, what isn’t good is not taking time away from it all to give the body time to recover. Camping helps our systems recover ready for the next challenge.

Camping at Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we go camping we have more opportunity to get involved in hiking, biking, fishing, and simply doing what we enjoy. Exercising and moving is simply one of the best ways to combat an overworked body, mind, and soul, in an over committed lifestyle.

Camping at Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many camping activities can be a good form of exercise. Walking and hiking help improve circulation, strengthen and pump up the heart, help in lowering blood pressure and decrease the risk of heart problems.

Camping at Galveston State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Back pains, eye strains, muscle aches and headaches, sluggish circulation that increases the risks of heart problems and heart attacks are just some of the results of too much stress. Any form of outdoor activities such as camping has been proven to reduce the level of stress in the body. This allows the body to recuperate and regain the energy lost.

Camping at Meaher State Park, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping is an effective and cost efficient form of outdoor activity. Camp out and experience the many health benefits of camping and at the same time enjoy the beauty of nature.

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

Summer Is Halfway Over! Time to Hit up the Great Outdoors

Discover and explore these wide open spaces in the Great Outdoors

Cities often get the lion’s share of our travel-dollar love. It’s easy to see why—there are world-class attractions, amazing restaurants, booming breweries, surprising food trucks to visit.

Who can argue with spending your time riding a bike through a booming metropolis with a gelato in hand? Who can complain about booking trips to San Antonio, or Seattle, or Miami?

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

But cities aren’t the only gems this country has to offer. America—densely populated as it is—has huge swaths of open and wild spaces, otherwise known as the Great Outdoors.

Joshua Tree National Park, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just how much open space are we talking? Take this as an anecdotal example—Montana and Germany are roughly the same size, but Montana has just over one million people compared to Germany’s 82 million. Germany still has a large amount of wide open spaces. So, comparatively, Montana may as well be empty.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Those wide open spaces come in many forms across America. There are alpine mountain highs, desert valley lows, dense forests, gator-filled swamps, giant lakes, and two coasts peppered with every kind of beach you can think of. There are lots of opportunities out there to unplug, turn off your smartphone, and take in a little of the nation’s nature.

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To help in your quest to explore America’s backcountry we’ve compiled a list of a few choice destinations. These are some cool trips where nature is front and center. These are places where you can find a little quiet amongst the stunning natural beauty of America’s backcountry. And you can discover and explore them all in an RV.

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regional National Parks

There are 61 national parks to choose from across these great states. Hitting all of them in one summer vacation is nigh on impossible. However, hitting all the national parks in a region of the United States is more doable than you may realize.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Grand Circle Tour includes Utah’s Big 5 (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonland, and Capitol Reef), Natural Bridges National Monument, Cedar Breaks National Monument, Monument Valley, and Grand Canyon National Park.

The East Coast Route takes you down the entire east coast of America and includes Acadia, Shenandoah, the Great Smoky Mountains, Congaree, Biscayne, the Everglades, and Dry Tortugas.

Arches National Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other possible national park routes include:

  • California Dreamin’ Route (all nine California national parks)
  • Traveling North to the Future (all eight Alaska national parks)
  • Pacific Northwest Route (four parks in Oregon and Washington)

Navajo Nation

Canyon de Chelley National Monument, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why not go to whole other country within the United States? The Navajo Nation is an immense (27,000 square miles) corner of the country encompassing Canyon de Chelley National Monument, Navajo National Monument, Monument Valley, Bisti Badlands, Churchrock Pyramid, Rainbow Bridge, and Window Rock, just to name a few stops.

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

You can easily self-guide yourself around the wonders of the Navajo Nation. However, with over 40 percent of the Navajo living in abject poverty, it’s important to inject your tourism dollars directly into the community by hiring local guides for touring, hiking, camping, fishing, and cultural activities. And don’t forget to eat fry bread. Every day.

The Roads Less Traveled

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are hundreds of byways across America that provide unparalleled opportunities to experience the cultural, historical, ecological, recreational, or scenic qualities of the area. These routes are perfect for spontaneous Sunday drives or pit stops along a greater cross-country journey.

Colonial Parkway, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are several designations used to honor these routes. The most common type of designation is the National Scenic Byway, though there are also state scenic byways, National Forest Byways, and Back Country Byways. Another type of scenic byway is a National Parkway, which is a protected roadway within federal park lands. If a particular byway is especially outstanding, it may sometimes be bestowed with the additional title of “All-American Road.”

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not sure where to start planning your next road trip? Our favorites include Scenic Byway 12 (Utah), Cherohala Skyway (North Carolina and Tennessee), Creole Nature Trail (Louisiana), Blue Ridge Parkway (North Carolina and Virginia), Amish Country (Ohio), Colonial Parkway (Virginia), and Red Rock (Arizona).

Scenic Byway 12, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

It’s not just a drive.

It’s an experience.