2021 National Park Visitor Spending Contributed $42.5 Billion to Economy

How National Park Service visitor spending supports jobs and business activity in local communities

The Department of the Interior recently announced that visitor spending in communities near national parks in 2021 resulted in a $42.5 billion benefit to the nation’s economy and supported 322,600 mostly local jobs.  

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nature is essential to the health, well-being, and prosperity of every family and community in America as well as to the local economies of gateway communities that support our national parks,” said Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland. “As we continue to welcome families to our parks and public lands across the country, the Interior Department is committed to making investments in our lands and waters that will support tens of thousands of jobs, safeguard the environment, and help ensure that national parks and public lands are ready to meet the challenges of climate change and increased visitation.” 

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What the numbers show: According to the National Park Service (NPS) report, 2021 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, approximately 297 million visitors spent $20.5 billion in communities within 60 miles of a national park. Of the 322,600 jobs supported by visitor spending, 268,900 jobs were in park gateway communities.

In western North Dakota, for example, 796,085 people visited Theodore Roosevelt National Park contributing nearly $51.2 million in visitor spending and supporting 675 jobs.

Badlands National Park National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In western South Dakota, 1.2 million people visited Badlands National Park in 2021and spent an estimated $88.3 million in local gateway regions while visiting. These expenditures supported a total of 1,190 jobs, $34.8 million in labor income, $61.0 million in value-added, and $114 million in economic output.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 2021, 3.1 million park visitors spent an estimated $170 million in local gateway regions while visiting Joshua Tree National Park. These expenditures supported a total of 2,040 jobs, $76.7 million in labor income, $124 million in value added, and $208 million in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Joshua Tree National Park.

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

And 14.2 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.3 billion in local gateway regions while visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. These expenditures supported a total of 18.8 thousand jobs, $618 million in labor income, $1.0 billion in value-added, and $1.8 billion in economic output in local gateway economies surrounding Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Benefits to State economies: In 2021, 35.1 million park visitors spent an estimated $2.4 billion in local gateway regions while visiting National Park Service lands in California, the top state for visitor spending. These expenditures supported a total of 30.2 thousand jobs, $1.5 billion in labor income, $2.4 billion in value-added, and $3.9 billion in economic output in the California economy.

California was followed by North Carolina (21.0 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.7 billion in local gateway regions), Utah (14.8 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.6 billion in local gateway regions), and Virginia (22.2 million park visitors spent an estimated $1.3 billion).

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additional findings include: 

  • Visitor spending in 2021 meant $14.6 billion in labor income and $24.3 billion in value added
  • The lodging sector saw the highest direct effects with $7 billion in economic output directly contributed to this sector nationally
  • The restaurant sector saw the next greatest effects with $4.2 billion in economic output directly contributed to this sector nationally
  • The camping sector saw the smallest direct effect with $490 million in economic output directly contributed to this sector nation-wide
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion under the socioeconomic lens: The National Park Service is initiating a new socioeconomic monitoring project in 2022 that will survey park visitors in 24 parks each year for the next 10 years or more. One of the early parks surveyed under this method was Zion National Park in 2021 offering an updated picture of visitor spending.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“Zion National Park was one of the first parks where visitors were surveyed under the new method. The results showed that our previous estimates or ‘profiles’ of average visitors underestimated the time they spent in the park and in gateway communities and we underestimated the amount of money they spent during their trips to the park,” said National Park Service Director Chuck Sams. “The new survey information will enable park managers to further improve the visitor experience and guide how to reach and engage with people who have yet to visit a national park.”  

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the NPS, Zion ranked No. 10 in the country for its number of visitors attracting 5 million in 2021.

An interactive tool enables users to explore visitor spending, jobs, labor income, value added, and output effects by sector for national, state, and local economies. Users can also view year-by-year trend data. 

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The annual peer-reviewed economics report was prepared by economists from the U.S. Geological Survey and National Park Service. It includes information by parks and by states on visitor spending, the number of jobs supported by visitor spending and other statistics.

Worth Pondering…

However one reaches the parks, the main thing is to slow down and absorb the natural wonders at leisure.

—Michael Frome

From Arches to Zion: The Essential Guide to America’s National Parks

For more than a hundred years, the United States’ national parks have been inspiring visitors

Comprising a collection of stunningly diverse landscapes, from active volcanoes spewing lava to crystalline glaciers creeping down snow-covered peaks to eerie deserts that look like someone pulled the bathtub stopper on an ancient ocean, US national parks have captured the imagination of millions of park-goers.

Full of history—both geologic, Indigenous, and more recent—and featuring trails that range from ADA-accessible boardwalks to challenging treks that test the hardiest of outdoor athletes, America’s national parks are at once culturally significant, approachable, and wild.

Here’s a quick look at the best of the best with links where you can learn more about these incredible diverse landscapes.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Giant sweeping arcs of sandstone frame snowy peaks and desert landscapes; explore the park’s namesake formations in a red-rock wonderland.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,806,865

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Arches National Park

Read more: Power of Nature: Arches National Park Offers Endless Beauty

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

It’s easy to understand why the Lakota named this place mako sica (badland) when you look over the rainbow-hued canyons and buttes that sit like an ocean boiled dry.

State: South Dakota

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Scenic drives, wildlife, cycling, hiking, stargazing

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021:1,224,226

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Badlands National Park

Read more: Badlands National Park: Place of Otherworldly Beauty

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

From the moment you enter the national park, there’s spectacular scenery everywhere you look. Head to the Chisos Basin for the most dramatic landscape but any visit should also include time in the Chihuahuan Desert, home to curious creatures and adaptable plants, and down along the Rio Grande, the watery dividing line between the US and Mexico.

State: Texas

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, hiking, scenic drives, stargazing

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 581,220

Related article: The Ultimate Big Bend National Park Road Trip

Read more: 10 of the Best National and State Parks in Texas

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Famous for its otherworldly sunset-colored spires punctuated by tracts of evergreen forest, Bryce Canyon National Park is one of the planet’s most exquisite geological wonders. Repeated freezes and thaws have eroded the small park’s soft sandstone and limestone into sandcastle-like pinnacles known as hoodoos, jutted fins, and huge amphitheaters filled with thousands of pastel daggers.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, stargazing

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 2,104,600

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Bryce Canyon National Park

Read more: Make Bryce Canyon National Park Your Next RV Trip

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

A forbidding and beautiful maze of red-rock fins, bridges, needles, spires, craters, mesas, and buttes, Canyonlands is a crumbling, eroding beauty—a vision of ancient earth.

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops, stargazing

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 911,594

Related article: A Lifetime of Exploration Awaits at Canyonlands (National Park)

Read more: Ultimate Guide to National Park Tripping in Utah: Arches and Canyonlands

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

Giant slabs of chocolate-red rock and sweeping yellow sandstone domes dominate the landscape of Capitol Reef which Indigenous Freemont people called the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”

State: Utah

Entrance Fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $20

Great for: Hiking, photo ops, scenic drives, geology, Ancestral Pueblo culture, stargazing

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,405,353

Related article: Getting Closer to Nature at Capitol Reef

Read more: Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef: A Great American Road Trip

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Scores of wondrous caves hide under the hills at this unique national park. The cavern formations are an ethereal wonderland of stalactites and fantastical geological features.

State: New Mexico

Entrance Fee: 3-day pass per person $15

Great for: Family travel, photo ops, scenic drives, caving, stargazing

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 349,244

Related article: Get Immersed in Caves: Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Read more: Wake Up In New Mexico

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

Encompassing nearly 27,000 acres, Congaree National Park is the largest expanse of old-growth, bottomland hardwood forest in the southeastern US. The lush trees growing here are some of the tallest in the southeast forming one of the highest temperate deciduous forest canopies left in the world.

State: South Carolina

Entrance Fee: Free

Great for: Wildlife, family travel, walking, canoeing and kayaking

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 215,181

Related article: Finding Solace in the Old Growth Forest of Congaree

Read more: Home of Champions: Congaree National Park

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

The Grand Canyon embodies the scale and splendor of the American West captured in dramatic vistas, dusty trails, and stories of exploration and preservation. Ancestral Puebloans lived in and near the Grand Canyon for centuries and their stories echo in the reds, rusts, and oranges of the canyon walls and the park’s spires and buttes.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, family travel, hiking, photo ops, geology, scenic drives, stargazing

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 4,532,677

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Grand Canyon National Park

Read more: Grand Canyon National Park Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary Today

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The sun-dappled forests of the Great Smoky Mountains are a four-season wonderland from spring’s wildflowers to summer’s flame azaleas to autumn’s quilted hues of orange, burgundy, and saffron blanketing the mountain slopes and winter’s ice-fringed cascades. This mesmerizing backdrop is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site harboring more biodiversity than any other national park in America.

States: North Carolina and Tennessee

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: History, wildlife, family travel, hiking, scenic drives, fall colors, botany

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

Recreational visitors in 2021: 14,161,548

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Read more: Great Smoky Mountains: Most Visited National Park…and We Can See Why

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

This 794,000-acre park is at the transition zone of two deserts: the low and dry Colorado and the higher, moister, and slightly cooler Mojave. Rock climbers know the park as the best place to climb in California; hikers seek out hidden, shady, desert-fan-palm oases fed by natural springs and small streams; and mountain bikers are hypnotized by the desert vistas.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Cycling, scenic drives, hiking, rock climbing, photo ops, stargazing

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 3,064,400

Related article: Joshua Tree National Park: An Iconic Landscape That Rocks

Read more: Joshua Tree: Admire Two Deserts At Once

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Anchoring the southernmost link in the Cascades’ chain of volcanoes, this alien landscape bubbles over with roiling mud pots, noxious sulfur vents, steamy fumaroles, colorful cinder cones, and crater lakes.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($10 in winter)

Great for: Photo ops, scenic drives, hiking, stargazing 

Recreational visitors in 2021: 359,635

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Read more: Geothermal Weirdness, Volcanic Landscapes, and Stunning Beauty

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

More than 700 years after its inhabitants disappeared, Mesa Verde retains an air of mystery. No one knows for sure why the Ancestral Puebloans left their elaborate cliff dwellings in the 1300s. What remains is a wonderland for adventurers of all sizes who can clamber up ladders to carved-out dwellings, see rock art, and delve into the mysteries of ancient America.

State: Colorado

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30 ($20 in winter)

Great for: Ancestral Pueblo culture, scenic drives, tours, stargazing

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 548,47

Related article: Mesa Verde National Park: Look Back In Time 1,000 Years

Read more: Mesa Verde National Park: 14 Centuries of History

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park and Preserve

The New River is the United States’ newest national park but is one of the oldest waterways in the world and the primeval forest gorge it runs through is one of the most breathtaking in the Appalachians. The region is an adventure mecca with world-class white-water runs and challenging single-track trails. Rim and gorge hiking trails offer beautiful views.

State: West Virginia

Entrance fee: Free

Great for: Hiking, biking, fishing, white water rafting, rock climbing, extreme sports

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,682,720

Related article: New River Gorge: America’s Newest National Park

Read more: The Wild, Wonderful Waters of New River Gorge! Round Out Your Trip with a Visit to Babcock State Park & Glade Creek Grist Mill!

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

The ‘trees’ of Petrified Forest National Park are fossilized logs scattered over a vast area of semi-desert grassland, buried beneath silica-rich volcanic ash before they could decompose. Up to 6 feet in diameter, they’re strikingly beautiful with extravagantly patterned cross-sections of wood glinting in ethereal pinks, blues, and greens.

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenic drives, geology, hiking, biking, Route 66, stargazing 

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 590,334

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

Read more: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

Pinnacles is named for the towering rock spires that rise abruptly out of the chaparral-covered hills east of Salinas Valley. Its famous formations are the eroded remnants of a long-extinct volcano that originated in present-day southern California before getting sheared in two and moving nearly 200 miles north along the San Andreas Fault.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, photo ops, hiking, rock climbing, caving

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 348,857

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Pinnacles National Park

Read more: Pinnacles National Park: Born of Fire

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

Saguaros (sah-wah-ros) are icons of the American Southwest and an entire cactus army of these majestic, ribbed sentinels is protected in this desert playground. Or more precisely, playgrounds: Saguaro National Park is divided into east and west units separated by 30 miles and the city of Tucson

State: Arizona

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Cycling, wildlife, plants, hiking

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,079,783

Related article: The Ultimate Guide to Saguaro National Park

Read more: Inside the Cartoonish and Majestic Land of Saguaro

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

With trees as high as 20-story buildings, Sequoia National Park is an extraordinary park with soul-sustaining forests and vibrant wildflower meadows.

State: California

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Family travel, scenic drives, hiking, photo ops

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,059,548

Related article: The Big Trees: Sequoia National Park

Read more: Explore Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Shenandoah is like a new smile from nature: in spring and summer, the wildflowers explode, in fall the leaves turn bright red and orange, and in winter a cold, starkly beautiful hibernation period sets in. With the famous 105-mile Skyline Drive and more than 500 miles of hiking trails, including 101 miles of the Appalachian Trail, there is plenty to do and see.

State: Virginia

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Wildlife, scenic drives, hiking, fall colors

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 1,592,312

Related article: Escape to the Blue Ridge: Shenandoah National Park

Read more: Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Wildlife abounds in these surreal mounds of striated earth in Theodore Roosevelt National Park; sunset is particularly evocative as shadows dance across the lonely buttes.

State: North Dakota

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $30

Great for: Hiking, wildlife, scenic drives, Presidential history, stargazing

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 796,085

Related article: North Dakota: Theodore Roosevelt National Park

Read more: Theodore Roosevelt National Park: A Plains-state Paradise

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

Undulating through the Tularosa Basin like something out of a dream, these ethereal dunes are a highlight of any trip to New Mexico and a must on every landscape photographer’s itinerary. Try to time a visit to White Sands with sunrise or sunset (or both), when the dazzlingly white sea of sand is at its most magical.

State: New Mexico

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $25

Great for: Scenery, hiking, photography

White Sand National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 782,469

Related article: A White Oasis: White Sands National Park

Read more: New Mexico’s White Sands Is Officially a National Park

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

From secret oases of trickling water to the hot-pink blooms of a prickly pear cactus, Zion’s treasures turn up in the most unexpected places.

State: Utah

Entrance fee: 7-day pass per vehicle $35

Great for: Scenery, hiking, family travel, photo ops, biking

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Recreational visitors in 2021: 5,039,835

Related article: Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

Read more: Roam Free in Greater Zion: Quail Creek State Park

Worth Pondering…

National parks are sacred and cherished places—our greatest personal and national treasures. It’s a gift to spend a year adventuring and capturing incredible images and stories in some of the most beautiful places on Earth.

—Jonathan Irish, photographer

Monument Hopping: El Malpais and El Morro

Trek back through time

Hiking El Malpais and El Morro national monuments prompt a different view of the past.

If people had been there to see it—and there’s a chance Ancestral Acoma or Zuni people were—lava flowing across what’s now El Malpais National Monument might have looked a little like a dark ocean swelling with waves. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When an eruption began, magma poured and oozed from an erupting vent or fissures in the earth spreading across the ground into channels. Everything in its path would be knocked over, surrounded, buried, or ignited by the extremely hot temperature of lava. As the liquid fire continued to flow, it sometimes moved underneath and lifted a blackened crust.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As it reached the rim of sandstone mesas around the southeastern edge of El Malpais, lava rolled away from the rock walls, slipped into cracks, or filled in corners. Here, some of the continent’s newest rock now abuts the sandy floor of the ancient inland sea. 

Behind the park’s western visitor center, lava ran over Precambrian granite. So it’s 1.5-billion-year-old rock and on top of it is a 10,000-year-old rock.

Related: New Mexico’s Land of Fire & Ice: Hike through Volcanic Rock and Ice Caves at This National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Managed by the National Park Service (NPS), El Malpais has the unusual distinction of having a twin park in El Morro National Monument to its west along State Route 53. Together they offer an action-packed adventure. 

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I contemplated the geological forces as we drove west on State Route 53 crossing a landscape that has reshaped itself over thousands of years. Every time I stepped out of my car, I shifted back in time by thousands of years. At the eastern edge of the park, the newest flows are about 3,000 years old, give or take a millennium—just a blink of an eye in geologic time. Elsewhere, the lava was last liquid 150,000 to 170,000 years ago.  

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surviving in this region has long meant journeying around, not the shortest path to your destination but the one that passed by water sources which are how Spaniards began visiting what’s now El Morro National Monument. A drive of fewer than 30 minutes takes you from one park to the next. But for anyone on horseback, it would have taken at least a day. Back then, the road we now call State Route 53 which threads between heaps of lava rock and sandstone would have been a major trade route.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For thousands of years, people have found their way to a small pond fed by a reliable spring below a towering cliff. There, they rested, watered their horses, and camped under a diamond-specked sky. Quite a few labored to chisel their names into the sandstone wall.

Travelers knew to head to El Morro’s massive, cream-colored sandstone buttress for the pool of water at its base, the only reliable source in a region with no perpetual streams or rivers.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rain and snowmelt still gather there, in a deep-green pool ringed by cattails that rattle in the breeze. Spaniards stopped here on their way to preach to the Zuni and Hopi or to colonize the region. Later, government survey teams and homesteaders spreading into the new U.S. territories in the Southwest did, too. They used knife blades or horseshoe nails to sign their names and record their destinations and purposes, even a poem, on the soft surface of the 200-foot-tall monolith of Inscription Rock. Those markings layer alongside much older petroglyphs and pictographs.

Related: A Monumental Road Trip through New Mexico’s National Monuments

A short, steep hike leads to the mesa-top home of an Ancestral Zuni village perched on sandstone. The trail loops past a few rooms and kivas after dipping and twisting over sandstone bleached as white as the clouds above. 

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today that wall at El Morro National Monument serves as a guest book of history. Spanish conquistador Juan de Oñate “passed by here” in 1598; hundreds of others did so as well, before and after. Inscription Rock is just one reason to put El Morro on your must-see list.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A superintendent in the 1920s scrubbed out signatures added after 1906 when El Morro became a national monument assessing them as illegal graffiti and leaving bald patches on the surface. No record remains of who made the arduous drive to see the area’s second national monument or who visited around 1918, during a major war and another pandemic. Now, as water works through and over the sandstone, the etchings’ lines soften, lichen obscures some, and rockfall has taken down others. It’s hard to hold history in place.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Admission is free—to the visitor center, the half-mile paved Inscription Trail, and even the campground. If you’re up for a little challenge tack on another mile or so and clamber up the Headland Trail. On the mesa top, you can explore the ruins of Atsinna Pueblo and snag some snaps of the nearby Zuni Mountains and remnants of ancient volcanoes.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But in these faded bluffs, in the creases of lava flows, I start to see landscape-scale reminders that history is also happening now. We don’t live at the end of the timeline, a terminus point from which history is a fixed and distant object we look back on. Rather, it’s something that is in constant flux, written moment by moment. 

Related: Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor centers for El Malpais (off I-40 at exit 85) and El Morro (between mile markers 44 and 45 on State Route 53) provide restrooms, maps, and rangers’ advice.

Travel on an ancient pathway by hiking the eight-mile Acoma-Zuni or Zuni-Acoma Trail (depending on your direction of travel). Trailheads are on SR-117 and SR-53 so set up a car shuttle.

El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A three-mile loop hike at El Calderon off SR-53 skirts cave entrances and climbs a cinder cone. Wildflowers may be abundant.

At El Morro, a trail passes along the base of Inscription Rock then switchbacks 200 feet up the mesa passing through an ancient pueblo before looping back to the visitor center in just over two miles.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camp at El Morro is one of nine sites spread among the junipers, each with a fire pit, a picnic table, and a view of stars thick overhead in this official International Dark Sky Park. Open on a first-come, first-served basis with water available seasonally.

Read Next: The Ultimate Guide to Aztec Ruins National Monument

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

On Camping and Spending Time in Nature

Spending time in nature is the best way to refuel your body and your mind

The Great Outdoors became a top travel destination in 2020 for obvious reasons: endless social distance, campgrounds within driving distance, and dramatic settings for an existential crisis. Zoom ahead to summer 2022 and the world has reopened—so has camping fallen out of favor?

Turns out, instead of returning their REI equipment, many rookies are still adding camping reservations to their travel plans.

According to Campspot, a platform for reserving campsites, there are 49 percent more bookings for this summer compared to last year and a six times jump in new campers.

33 percent more people are shopping on Amazon for camping tents this year compared to 2019 and demand for other outdoor gear (lanterns, backpacks, camp stoves) has also risen by double digits, per data analytics company Pattern.

Reunion Lake RV Resort, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glamping’s also holding onto its pandemic popularity: Getaway, which rents tiny, posh cabins you may have seen on Instagram had its most guests ever in Q1 2022.

Between inflation, the stock market, supply-chain issues, and recession fears, people have a strong desire to find ways to disconnect from the stress and spend time in nature to help them reconnect with themselves and their family and friends.

Relaxing nature activities will rejuvenate your mind, from the simple to the life-changing.

The back roads of Kentucky’s Blue Grass Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savor the scenery

Movies beaming with CGI (computer-generated imagery) dazzle our imaginations but the most mind-blowing spectacles are not found on a screen. When was the last time you watched the sunrise or ventured to the nearest hilltop to watch it set? Or plied the back roads?

A back road in South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The back, back roads of South Carolina, for example, will present you with a gift basket of surprises. Looming magnolia trees and Spanish moss! Tiny, rural communities populated with folks who more than likely will be happy to spend the afternoon beguiling you with the stories of their lives. Makeshift farm stands and BBQ pits that you can sniff out a mile away. Ramshackle houses and dilapidated plantations evoking chapters from another world!

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is a beautiful Virginia byway that goes straight through Shenandoah National Park and the picturesque Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s not exactly a well-kept secret, but if you hit the road early enough to catch a misty sunrise, you might be able to beat some of the crowds. At just over 100 miles long, it makes for a great half-day drive.

Walking a trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wander the wilderness

Walking is good for you, but not all walks are created equal. Cruising urban streets doesn’t provide the same mental boost as hiking a local trail or feeling the sandy beach between your toes. You don’t have to have a specific destination in mind, either—your goal isn’t to hike a particular number of miles but to aimlessly immerse yourself in the natural world around you. The Japanese call this “forest bathing” and it can rejuvenate a weary mind.

Enchanted Rock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Short, sweet, and steep are the best descriptors of the flagship trail at Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. Characterized (and named for) a massive pink granite dome—the same unique Texas pink granite that was used to build the State Capitol building—this park is a popular outing for those visiting Central Texas. From the top of the steep Summit Trail, you’ll see unparalleled 360-degree views of untouched terrain. For more entertainment, Fredericksburg, a charming German-Texan small town, is only a 20-minutes drive away.

Bird watching in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meditate on the music

Not the music playing in your headphones. Leave your electronics behind and listen to the melodies nature has to offer: babbling brooks, bird songs, wind whistling through the trees, and the scurrying of animals through the canopy. It’s a lot more relaxing than the honking horns and text message alerts you’re all too used to and it offers the opportunity to practice some meditative mindfulness in your tranquil surroundings.

Pack a picnic

Load a basket with your favorite healthy goodies and have lunch among the flora and fauna. A picnic is a perfect way to spend quality time with friends and family without the distractions of the modern-day world. And nature makes socializing with others easier so it’s the perfect place to build stronger relationships with those you love.

Fishing at Lynx Lake in Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go fish

Fishing puts you outside, near a body of water, and it rewards patience. All of those are good things. Even if you don’t catch (and release) anything, you’ll both forge a treasured, lifelong memory. With a little luck, you reel in a perch that will grow into a marlin after multiple retellings of the story at family events.

Bird watching © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look, up in the sky

Thousands of people who watch birds as a hobby are on to something: There’s a special thrill when you can recognize a bird by sight or by its sound. Odds are, a nearby Audubon location offers free birding walks that are open to the public. Or, turn to the internet for free resources to help you identify the birds in your area. Either way, bird watching gives you the perfect excuse to relax in nature with your head in the clouds. That’s a great way to fend off stress.

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

Sleep beneath the stars

Now you’re getting serious. Why not disconnect entirely for several days or more and make nature your home? Camping lets you get further away than a simple day trip allows. Or, if roughing it isn’t your style, consider glamping where you can maintain some of the creature comforts you love, but still be away from it all.

Camping in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the rugged Black Hills of South Dakota, Custer State Park protects 71,000 acres of terrain and a herd of some 1,300 bison who are known to stop traffic along the park’s Wildlife Loop Road from time to time. The park has nine campgrounds to choose from including the popular Sylvan Lake Campground. Many sites include electric hookups and dump stations.

If you take your phone, use it for that cool star-gazing app (or emergencies, of course) but not for scrolling social media 24/7. Forget the Fear of Missing Out and try the Joy of Missing Out instead. #JOMO!

World’s Largest Roadrunner at La Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What’s that giant roadrunner doing there? Read about the weird world of giant roadside attractions

Listen up: This is the only summer playlist you’ll need

Looking for a memorable road trip: Choose a location and route that aligns with your passions

Applegate River Valley, Oregon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More trip ideas: These are the best things to do this summer

And finally: Here’s what to expect at national parks this summer

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson

America the Beautiful: The National Parks

63 national parks draw millions of visitors a year to unique natural wonders and unforgettable terrains

In 1882, choirmaster Samuel A. Ward took a leisurely ferry ride from Coney Island into New York City and was so struck with inspiration at the summer scene that he immediately composed a tune.

A decade later on an 1893 summer day in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Katharine Lee Bates gazed out from a window and saw a “sea-like expanse of fertile country spreading away so far under those ample skies,” that a hymn immediately sprang to mind. In 1910, the music and poetry came together under the title “America the Beautiful.” The work struck an enduring chord, resonating with so many Americans that numerous campaigns have sought to make it the national anthem.

From the earliest days of America, the hand of Providence has been seen not just in the history of events but also in the natural splendor of the land spurring several conservation efforts including the creation of the National Parks System. Wilderness areas for people to enjoy the rugged beauty were set aside while protecting the landscape, plants, and animals.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park

Established as a national park on August 9, 1916, Lassen Volcanic National Park contains all four types of volcanoes found in the world. These include a shield, plug dome, cinder cone, and composite.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park

This park is notable for its giant sequoia trees, which can absorb up to 800 gallons of water a day in the summer!

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park

Many fossils of ancient marine animals have been found in the Grand Canyon, these date back 1.2 billion years ago. The age of the Grand Canyon itself remains a mystery, but recent studies speculate it to be more than 70 million years old.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park contains more than 10,000 years of human history recorded within its territory, including 800 archaeological sites. The striking colors in petrified wood are derived from pure quartz, manganese oxide, and iron oxide producing white, blue, purple, black, brown, yellow, and red colors.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park

The saguaro is the largest cactus in the United States and is protected by Saguaro National Park. These giant prickly plants can grow up to 40 feet tall and live for over 150 years!

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park

Arches National Park is known for its many natural sandstone arches. Landscape Arch is located at the end of Devil’s Garden Trailhead. Stretching 306 feet, it’s considered North America’s longest spanning arch.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

The park used to be home to an ancient civilization, the Anasazi who lived there around 1500 B.C. Traces of their history can be found through rock art, sandstone granaries, and cliff dwellings scattered around the park.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park

Bryce Canyon is an ideal place for stargazing enthusiasts due to its clear skies, high elevation, and low light pollution.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park

Known for its exceptionally well-preserved prehistoric settlements, Mesa Verde National Park was selected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park

Featuring over 100 caves, Carlsbad Caverns used to be part of an ancient underwater reef called Capitan Reef. Many fossilized marine species can be found on the land. The caverns themselves were formed by sulfuric acid in acid rain which slowly dissolved the limestones.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park

The only national park in the whole of North Dakota. It was named after President Theodore Roosevelt in 1947 to honor and preserve his legacy of land protection.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited national park in America, with half a billion visitors since 1934. The Appalachian Trail runs 71 miles through the park.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Black bears are very prominent in Shenandoah National Park, so there’s a high chance you’ll spot one. The park estimates there to be around one to four bears in every square mile.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande river falls between Cañón de Santa Elena, Mexico, and Big Bend National Park, United States.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua “Tree” is actually a misnomer as it falls under the same category as flowering grasses and orchids. Only 15 percent of the national park is open for visitors to explore, and the remaining 85 percent is wilderness.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park

The park is known for its old-growth bottomland hardwood forests which have some of the largest tree canopies on the East Coast. Towering champion trees are some of the notable trees that inhabit these woods.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands National Park

Horseshoe Canyon is located eight miles west of the park and is known for depicting prehistoric pictographs etched somewhere between 2,000 to 5,000 years ago.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

A well-preserved fossilized skull of a saber-tooth cat was discovered by a young visitor in 2010. Fossils of other animals like marine reptiles and rhinos can also be found hidden among the layers of sediment. They’re estimated to date back to the late Eocene and Oligocene periods, over 30 million years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park

The park is home to an orchard originally planted by Mormon pioneers in the early 1900s. It’s open to the public for picking during harvest season for a small fee.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park

The Pinnacles National Park was created when the now-extinct Neenach volcano erupted 23 million years ago. The park contains many caves that provide homes to 14 species of California bats. These caves were created by natural erosion when boulders fell below, filling the canyons.

New River Gorge National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New River Gorge National Park

Contrary to its name, The New River is one of the oldest rivers in the world, estimated to be between 10 to 360 million years old. It’s one of the few rivers in North America to flow from south to north, as most tend to flow from west to east.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park

What makes White Sands National Park so breathtaking and popular are the white dunes which are made up of gypsum. The park covers 275 square miles of white sands, making it the largest gypsum dune field in the world.

Worth Pondering…

America the Beautiful

O beautiful for spacious skies,

For amber waves of grain,

For purple mountain majesties

Above the fruited plain!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,

And crown thy good with brotherhood

From sea to shining sea!

—Catharine Lee Bates

The Ultimate Guide to Custer State Park

With spectacular towering rock spires, gorgeous lakes, scenic drives, and abundant wildlife, Custer State Park is a world of beautiful nature

Encompassing 71,000 acres in the Black Hills, Custer State Park is home to plentiful wildlife and adventure; camping, hiking, biking, swimming, fishing, or relaxing, there’s something here for everyone.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 2 million people from around the world visit Custer State Park every year and it’s easy to see why. With its combination of rolling hills, stunning granite peaks, and abundant wildlife, Custer is a uniquely beautiful location. The park itself can be seen and enjoyed in two to three days but I suggest a longer stay to enjoy the area around the park and all it has to offer.  If you are planning a trip to South Dakota or want to be inspired, read on to find out all you need to know about this beautiful and unique destination.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

History of Custer State Park

Custer State Park was born in 1919. Governor Peter Norbeck had long admired the beauty of the Black Hills of South Dakota and once elected governor of the state, he set out to permanently preserve the area. Once the park was created, Norbeck himself helped to plan the layout of roads and scenic vistas throughout the park. The twisty turns and narrow granite tunnels of the Needles Highway and Iron Mountain Road are designed to offer breathtaking views while blending with the scenery they traverse.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When asked about the routes he had planned throughout the park, Norbeck famously said “You’re not supposed to drive here at 60 miles per hour; to do the scenery justice you should drive at no more than 20. To do it full justice you should just get out and walk it.”

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the summer of 1927, President Calvin Coolidge spent three months visiting the Black Hills and Custer State Park in particular. He and Mrs. Coolidge stayed primarily at the State Game Lodge during this time, earning it the nickname the “Summer White House.”

Related Article: Into the Hills: Can’t Miss Spots for Your Black Hills Tour

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) was responsible for many of the projects we currently enjoy in the park. From 1933 to 1941 they built the dams, bridges, and buildings that makeup Stockade Lake, Center Lake, Wildlife Station Visitor Center, the Mount Coolidge Lookout Tower, and most notably the Peter Norbeck Visitor Center.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Location of Custer State Park

Located in southwestern South Dakota, Custer State Park is a 30-minute drive from Rapid City, South Dakota. The drive south from Rapid City on Highway 79 is an easy and pleasant one offering impressive views of the Black Hills. Turn right onto Highway 36 and the main entrance to the park. Once you enter the park gates, the highway name changes to Highway 16A which can be a little confusing. Turning right onto Highway 16A takes you north on Iron Mountain Road to Mount Rushmore National Monument while continuing straight on Highway 16A takes you west on the park’s main road.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two of the Park’s lodges (State Game Lodge and Legion Lake Lodge) and three of its campgrounds (Game Lodge Campground, Grace Coolidge Campground, and Legion Lake Campground) are located along this route. Turning south just past Legion Lake, one encounters Highway 87 which takes you to the Blue Bell Lodge and campground and Custer’s famed Wildlife Loop Road.

The area immediately surrounding the park is a tourist playground with scenic drives, national monuments (Mount Rushmore), and private attractions such as the Crazy Horse Monument. The town of Custer is located just outside the west entrance to the park and is convenient for restocking on fuel and groceries or for grabbing a bite to eat.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Geography of Custer State Park

Granite spires, stunning mountain views, and rolling grasslands all combine in this very special and scenic location. Located in Black Hills National Forest, Custer State Park encompasses approximately 71,000 acres of land.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The change in topography in this area is one part of what makes Custer so unique. Toward the south of the park there are rolling grasslands that provide a home for over 1,500 bison as well as pronghorn antelope, elk, wild burros, and prairie dogs. Toward the north part of the park, the elevation increases dramatically and tall granite spires appear to shoot out of the ground dozens of feet into the air. The sheer sides and steep drops from the spires create a magnificent landscape.

Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woven throughout this landscape are several streams and lakes that further add to the beauty and ambience of the area. Taken together, Custer State Park offers a unique landscape that creates a stunning palette of colors, shapes, and textures that many consider to be unparalleled in its scenic beauty.

Related Article: Custer State Park: A Black Hills Gem

Bison along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife in Custer

Wildlife in Custer is abundant and includes bison, deer, pronghorn antelope, elk, bighorn sheep, wild turkeys, coyotes, burros, and prairie dogs. While wildlife can be viewed throughout the park, the Wildlife Loop Road in the southern region of the park is known to have an abundance of animals that can be seen without even leaving your car. During our visit, I observed (and photographed) bison, pronghorn antelope, prairie dogs, and Custer’s begging burros during our drive along the road.

Burros along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The begging burros (as they are known) have inhabited the grasslands of Custer for nearly a century. Originally, these donkeys were used as pack animals to shuttle visitors between Sylvan Lake Lodge and Black Elk Peak (the highest peak east of the Rockies). When their services were no longer needed these animals were released into the wild to roam freely in the park.

Begging burros along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The begging burros are extremely friendly and easily approachable. They’ve even been known to poke their heads into the windows of passing cars that stop long enough on the side of the road. Although park officials don’t recommend it, visitors enjoy feeding the burros that are eager to accept almost any handout that is offered.

Pronghorns along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The big wildlife draw in Custer is their herd of over 1,500 wild bison. The herd roams freely in the grasslands in the southern part of the park and has thrived in this area. Visitors on the Wildlife Loop Road are almost guaranteed to see bison during their drive. And it’s not uncommon to be caught in a “buffalo jam.”

Bison along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This unique experience occurs when the bison herd stops on the roadway or crosses the roadway in the park. Don’t be surprised to find a car or truck surrounded by bison almost like a metal island in a sea of brown hides and horns. While not tame, the bison are also not easily intimidated by people or automobiles. This is truly a unique experience that would be hard to duplicate anywhere in the world outside of Custer State Park.

Related Article: Explore the Black Hills

How to explore Custer State Park

Scenic drives

Almost every road in Custer can be considered a scenic drive! But, there are three that stand out above the others.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Needles Highway 

The Needles Highway (also known as Highway 87) is a beautiful drive that runs from Highway 16A in the park up to the northwest corner of Custer where Sylvan Lake is located. This 14-mile road is part of the Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway and was once thought to be impossible to build by many engineers. However, through hard work and dedication, it was completed in 1922. This spectacular drive twists and turns its way through forests of pine and spruce, across sunny meadows, and up rugged mountains.

Needles Eye Tunnel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highway’s name is derived from the rugged granite spires (tall granite towers) that rise majestically into the air. The road terminates at Sylvan Lake after passing through Needles Eye Tunnel, a one-lane tunnel carved into a mountain of granite that measures only 8 feet 4 inches wide by 11 feet 3 inches tall. With the many twists, turns, and narrow tunnels, this highway is definitely not RV-friendly so leave the rig at the campsite while enjoying this drive. Expect a 45-minute drive one-way from end to end.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iron Mountain Road

Iron Mountain Road is the portion of Highway 16A that travels north after one enters the park from the east on Highway 36. This 17-mile stretch of highway is yet another example of determination and ingenuity. The road was specifically designed with 314 curves, 14 switchbacks, and three one-lane tunnels to force visitors to go slow in the hopes that they would enjoy and take in the scenery during their drive.

Needles Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The southern portion of the road begins in Custer then leaves the park after a few miles and ends at Mount Rushmore National Monument. Along the way, visitors are treated to the scenic beauty of the Black Hills including many overlooks and beautiful pine forests. On your journey toward Mount Rushmore, you will cross over wooden “pigtail” bridges (bridges that loop over their road as they climb). As you near the end, be on the lookout for Doane Robinson Tunnel. This tunnel carved through the mountain is 13 feet 2 inches wide and 12 feet 2 inches tall and was designed to perfectly frame Mount Rushmore while you’re heading north. It is quite an impressive sight. This beautiful drive is not an RV-friendly stretch of highway so once again you’ll want to leave your rig parked while exploring this road. Expect a 60-minute drive one way along this route.

Along Wildlife Loop Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wildlife Loop Road

As mentioned before, this 18-mile scenic loop travels through the south end of the park and winds through open grassy meadows and hills dotted with pine and crosses clear flowing streams. Depending on the day, you can see pronghorn antelope, deer, coyotes, prairie dogs, and the begging burros on your drive. But, perhaps the most well-known feature of the drive is Custer’s bison herd. At over 1,500 animals strong, this herd roams the grasslands in the park’s southern end and can almost always be seen from the road. We have seen and experienced cars completely surrounded by bison and it makes for an extremely unique experience. Depending on “buffalo jams,” and whether you stop to feed the burros, we recommend planning around 1 hour to 1½ hours for this drive.

Related Article: The Ultimate South Dakota Road Trip Itinerary

Hiking in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

The park offers many hiking opportunities that allow visitors to get off the beaten path and explore the park in an up close and personal way. In addition to the designed and marked trails, off-trail hiking also is encouraged in Custer and visitors are allowed to hike wherever they would like. Depending on the area of the park in which you hike, the trails differ greatly in their topography and geography.

Camping in Custer State Park

Camping in Custer

Custer features 10 campgrounds, each with a unique feel, throughout the park:

  • Blue Bell Campground
  • Center Lake Campground
  • French Creek Horse Camp
  • French Creek Natural Area
  • Game Lodge Campground
  • Grace Coolidge Campground
  • Legion Lake Campground
  • Stockade North Campground
  • Stockade South Campground
  • Sylvan Lake Campground

Most campgrounds offer electric sites with water available at various locations throughout the campground. The lone dump station in the park is located at Game Lodge Campground. 

Other activities

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sylvan Lake

Sylvan Lake is a beautiful body of water located in the northwest corner of Custer State Park. It can be accessed via the Needles Highway if you’re in the Park or by Highway 87 from the north. The Sylvan Lake area offers many activities to visitors; you can rent canoes or kayaks or try your hand at fishing for the trout, panfish, and bass found in its waters.

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The loop trail that goes around the lake is 1.1 miles in length, mostly flat and comprised of packed gravel making it a relatively easy hike for most individuals. The views from the trail can be stunning as it traverses the shoreline and there are several large boulders along the way that kids and adults alike will enjoy scrambling to the top of in order to enjoy the breathtaking views from that vantage point. There is even a small swimming beach at the lake for those that are interested in cooling off on a hot summer day.

Related Article: Needles Highway: National Scenic Byway in the Black Hills

Sylvan Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The nearby Sylvan Lake Lodge offers visitors a chance to grab lunch in the restaurant or stock up on drinks, snacks, and souvenirs while they are there. Due to the many activities and its scenic beauty, Sylvan Lake is quite popular and parking can be somewhat limited. So, we suggest arriving at the lake early in the day when crowds are somewhat minimized.

Hiking in Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park is home to a number of other activities as well. The streams in Custer are teaming with trout waiting to be caught. The trails and roads in Custer are perfect for biking and walking. Eagles and other birds fill the skies and are waiting to be seen by all those who are interested. And the lakes in the park are waiting for you to take a cool refreshing dip.

Truly Custer is a magnificent destination unlike any other we have experienced!

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup

Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they roundup and drive the herd of approximately 1,500 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Buffalo Roundup begins at 9:30 a.m. with the parking lots opening at 6:15 a.m. Guests must stay in the viewing areas until the herd is safely in the corrals, generally around noon. Breakfast is available at 6:15 a.m. in both viewing areas. Lunch is served at the corrals once the buffalo are rounded up. There is a fee for both meals. 

Related Article: South Dakota: Fly Over State? Not a Chance!

Testing, branding, and sorting of the buffalo begins at 1 p.m. and lasts until approximately 3 p.m.

At the Annual Buffalo Roundup Arts Festival, up to 150 vendors offer their fine arts and crafts for sale including many South Dakota made products.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Start your morning with a pancake feed and enjoy on-going Western and Native American entertainment under the big top. All events and vendors will be located on the festival grounds across from the Peter Norbeck Outdoor Education Center.

The annual roundup, held the last Friday in September, is open to the public. In 2022, the 57th annual Roundup is scheduled for Friday, September 30.

Details

Park Size: 71,000 acres

Camping at Custer State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping: 10 campgrounds with 341 campsites and 50 camping cabins, horse camp

Park entrance fees: $20 per vehicle (valid for 7 days); $36 for annual pass; vehicles traveling non-stop through the park on US Highway 16A do not need an entrance license

Operating hours: Open year-round (between October 1 and April 30, showers, flush toilets, and other water systems may be closed; vault toilets usually remain open)

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearest towns: Custer, Rapid City, Hill City, Keystone

Note: GPS can be unreliable in the area

Read Next: Doorway to Forever: Badlands National Park

Worth Pondering…

Oh, give me a home where the Buffalo roam
Where the Deer and the Antelope play;
Where never is heard a discouraging word,
And the sky is not clouded all day.

—Dr. Brewster Higley (1876)

Escape Crowded National Parks at these 4 Alternate Destinations

It’s not easy to commune with nature when you’re surrounded by hordes of fellow visitors

If you are looking to experience the splendor of America’s national parks and other popular outdoor destinations this summer, you likely won’t be alone. Given the resurgence of outdoor travel and road trips during the pandemic, many parks set all-time visitor records in 2021 and are expected to be at least as popular this year.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll encounter trails and viewpoints full of tourists. As traffic jams and parking become ongoing problems, some national parks have instituted strict reservation systems. Yes, you can always find solitude in the vast wilderness of big parks like the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone but you’ll still have to contend with traffic getting there.

This summer may be the time to try some alternative spots that offer some of the same features as their more famous neighbors. If you’re looking to dodge the lineups of slow-moving RVs and actually find a camping site, consider giving one of these lesser-known but still awe-inspiring destinations a try.

Related Article: Absolutely Best National Parks to Escape the Insanely Crazy Crowds

Sequoia National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Forest instead of Yosemite National Park

Last year, Yosemite National Park hosted more than 3.3 million visitors with the biggest crowds visiting during the summer months. The spectacular views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls lose luster after you’ve had to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic all day and then face selfie-stick-toting mobs at every viewpoint. Park lodging is often sold out a year in advance, campgrounds, are packed and the Valley takes on a circus-like atmosphere. To attempt to limit the crowds, Yosemite has instituted a reservation entry process for this year’s high season, lasting from May 20 through September 30.

Sequoia National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Meanwhile, about two hours south, Sequoia National Forest boasts similarly beautiful nature with cheaper entrance fees and only a fraction of Yosemite’s visitors. What you lose from missing out on Yosemite’s famous monuments, you gain by enjoying peace, solitude, and the fresh air you originally sought from the outdoors experience. Nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks also contend with crowds, particularly in their main thoroughfares.

Despite the wildfires that raged through the area in 2021, most of Sequoia National Forest’s campgrounds are already open for 2022 and the 1.1 million acres of the park still provide plenty of pristine forests to visit.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen National Park instead of Yellowstone

For an alternative to Yellowstone National Park, take the trek to California’s Lassen Volcanic National Park. Yellowstone has the iconic Old Faithful geyser and herds of bison. However, it also has herds of visitors in summer which can be as unpleasant as a close encounter with the cranky furry beasts. The more remote and often under-visited Lassen National Park has an equally entertaining collection of thermal features including the giggle-inducing hiking trails and viewpoints of “Bumpass Hell” and “Fart Gulch.”

Lassen Volcanic National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While some segment of Lassen suffered from a major wildfire in 2021, much of the park remained untouched and most campgrounds will be open for the start of the summer season along with many of the popular trails.

Related Article: Get Off the Beaten Path with These Lesser-Known National Parks

For those with a hankering for wide-open bison-viewing spots, you can still get your fill in the 70,000 acres of North Dakota’s peaceful and secluded Theodore Roosevelt National Park or South Dakota’s Custer State Park.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Mountain National Forest instead of Acadia National Park

New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest is a good alternative to Maine’s Acadia National Park. Given the record-setting 4 million visitors to Acadia National Park last year, it’s going to take a lot of work to find some solitude there this summer.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Instead, travel across state lines to the White Mountain National Forest and tackle the rugged beauty of the Presidential Traverse hiking trail. The full hike can be a challenge, as it goes along windswept peaks above the tree line but you’ll appreciate the peace and spectacular views you’ll earn along the way. The park offers plenty of more relaxing hiking trails as well.

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

Canyon de Chelly National Monument instead of the Grand Canyon

Instead of the Grand Canyon, take a trip to the Canyon de Chelly National Monument in northeastern Arizona. The Grand Canyon is a truly spectacular destination that should be on everyone’s bucket list. However, its millions of high-season visitors can make it feel like Disneyland at times—with the associated high prices and crowds. Instead, take a detour to explore Canyon de Chelly National Monument which features similarly stunning sandstone canyons as well as ancient cliff dwellings near the current residences of the Navajo Nation (which co-manages the park). The park charges no entry fees and has rangers leading free hikes and hosting educational evening programs.

Related Article: My Favorite Under-appreciated National Parks to Visit in 2022

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

Bottom line

While summer seems like a great time to visit America’s most famous National Parks and other high-profile outdoor destinations, expected high-season crowds may detract from your experience.

It’s worth the time to research and explore many of the lesser-known neighboring parks as alternative summer holiday spots. You can always return to Grand Canyon and Yosemite in the off-season and soak in some scenic seclusion then.

Worth Pondering…

Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.

— John Muir

Summer 2022: 18 Best Things to Do in America

From exploring a hippie paradise to a taste bud tour, RVing with Rex reveals unique and unusual picks for the 18 best things to do in the US this summer. Your US bucket list just got (a lot) longer …

We could all use a break this summer. The last two summer travel seasons have been especially challenging for everyone—travelers, destinations, and small businesses alike. But 2022’s summer could be the biggest one yet for travel within the US and I’m here to help you experience the absolute best of it.

Along Route 66 in Oatman © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best things to do this summer include many hidden gems and unique experiences. You’ll find plenty of tried-and-true staples too. But, as is my style at RVing with Rex, I tend to embrace under-the-radar spots as well as famous attractions. You’ll likely find things to do that you didn’t even know existed!

Believing the most authentic recommendations derive from personal experiences, the list highlights the places I’ve discovered and explored on one or more occasions. But, no matter where you plan to travel you’re bound to find something unique and fun to do this summer!

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Hit All the Roadside Attractions on Arizona Route 66

Location: Oatman to Petrified Forest National Park, Arizona

Originally running from Chicago, Illinois to Santa Monica, California, Route 66 is easily one of the most recognizable and iconic highways in the world. It has endless cultural references and was a popular way for travelers to get from east to west and back for decades. The route has mostly been taken over by the I-40 but the stretch of Route 66 in Arizona is especially exciting and alluring. Dotted with ghost towns, Route 66 iconography, local diners, and one-of-a-kind shops, you’ll be delighted every inch of the way.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Admire Breathtaking Red Rock in Sedona

Location: Sedona, Arizona

Due to its distinctive culture, Sedona is truly a place unlike any other. Visitors can navigate remote canyons, rejuvenate at an energy vortex site, and experience the ancient culture of the Sinagua people. Throughout the red rock are multitudes of secluded viewpoints, cliff dwellings, and well-preserved petroglyphs. In downtown Sedona, you’ll find a vibrant art community dense with unique shops and galleries. Hikers and adventurous types will enjoy the various trails in Red Rock State Park and the renowned Pink Jeep off-road adventure tours.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Hit All Five of Utah’s National Parks

Location: Utah

Plan a road trip to visit “The Mighty 5,” an unforgettable journey through Utah’s colorful Canyon Country. Utah is home to five remarkable National Parks—Arches, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon, and Zion. To see all of them on a road trip, start from Zion if you’re coming from the west or Arches if you’re coming from the east. On this beautiful drive, you’ll pass alien-like rock formations, sheer cliffs, and graceful arches. Note that in the summer, afternoon temperatures can be extremely hot.

Woodstock © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Explore the Hippie Paradise of Woodstock

Location: Woodstock, New York

Located near the Catskill Mountains, this charming town lives up to its iconic namesake. People from all over the world recognize the name “Woodstock” yet most of them associate it with the crazy, free-spirited music festival. Fun fact: the festival wasn’t actually held in Woodstock but rather more than an hour away in Bethel. Though the name is famous, few people are familiar with the actual small town that boasts loads of personality. Somehow, it’s the perfect place to do a million activities or absolutely nothing.

Carlsbad Caverns © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Plunge into the Depths of the Earth at Carlsbad Caverns

Location: Carlsbad, New Mexico

Descend nearly 800 feet below ground into a series of completely dark, breathtaking caves.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park is hidden within the remote parts of southeastern New Mexico. More than just a cave, Carlsbad Caverns is a completely immersive experience. Beginning with a several-mile descent from the cave opening, travelers will emerge into massive caverns full of magnificent rock formations, stalactites, stalagmites, and more. The paved decline is steep but accessible for most people. There is also an elevator available to transport visitors as needed.

Chihuly glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Observe Stunning Artwork at Chihuly Garden and Glass

Location: Seattle, Washington

At Chihuly Garden and Glass, vibrant colors and organic shapes come together in spectacular visual exhibits. The long-term exhibition features a Garden, theater, eight galleries, and the breathtaking Glasshouse. The impressive glass art was fashioned by the institution’s namesake, Dale Chihuly, a prolific and talented artist.

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Explore Historic Mansions along the Newport Cliff Walk

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

Come for the jaw-dropping mansions and stay for the scenic walking tour along the Rhode Island shoreline. Newport is best known for its sailing regattas and historic manors that run along the seaside Cliff Walk. The walk is a National Recreation Trail that spans 3.5 miles with multiple scenic overlooks along the way. Take a tour of The Breakers mansion along the walk and learn how New York’s elite families used to spend their summers. If you watched HBO’s The Gilded Age, then you’re probably planning your trip to visit the historic summer “cottages” already. 

Mississippi Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Experience Southern Coastal Charm in Ocean Springs, Mississippi

Location: Ocean Springs, Mississippi

This quaint, coastal town along the Gulf Coast is the perfect small-town beach getaway. The Mississippi Gulf Coast advertises itself as “The Secret Coast,” and Ocean Springs is a treasure. The quiet town has white sand beaches, a vibrant art scene, and a beautiful downtown area with restaurants, shops, and nightlife. Every fall, Ocean Springs hosts the famed Peter Anderson Arts & Crafts Festival but during the rest of the year, visitors can get a taste of the art scene at multiple galleries and museums in the area. If you’re looking for a summer 2022 beach getaway with a side of history and culture, then Ocean Springs is for you.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. Wander Cobblestone Streets and Shoreline in Charleston

Location: Charleston, South Carolina

It’s easy to be transported back in time while exploring Charleston, the oldest city in South Carolina. Bordering the cobblestone streets are enormous trees and centuries-old Colonial and Victorian homes. Horse-drawn carriages clop through the moss-draped historic district. You can wade in Pineapple Fountain at Waterfront Park or through waves on Folly Beach. Over on Wadmalaw Island, Deep Water Vineyards offers six tasting pours and a souvenir glass for just $15. Even better, the top attraction in Charleston is the ambiance, free of charge.  

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Travel Back in Time at Mesa Verde National Park

Location: Cortez, Colorado

Marvel at the Mesa Verde National Park cliff dwellings that were once occupied by the Ancestral Pueblo people. Located in southwestern Colorado, this UNESCO World Heritage Site will transport you back in time almost a thousand years. Many archeological sites can be explored independently but Cliff Palace, the largest cliff dwelling in North America, requires a guided tour. Purchasing a ticket is worth it, but be aware that Cliff Palace won’t open to the public until July 1st due to road construction. 

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

11. Experience the Magic of the Blue Ridge Parkway

Location: Virginia and North Carolina

There’s something about being on the Blue Ridge Parkway that instills a sense of calm and puts everything into perspective. The parkway, which is nearly 500 miles long, runs through the Appalachian Mountains and valleys of Virginia and North Carolina. The parkway is perfect for families and outdoor enthusiasts since it’s filled with endless trails, camping, and waterfalls. Drive through the winding roads and see for yourself why these rolling hills and lush greenery make the Blue Ridge Parkway “America’s Favorite Drive.”

Mount St. Helens © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Explore an Active Volcano at Mount Saint Helens

Location: Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, Washington

If you want to explore an active volcano, go to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. There are several visitor centers in the area for people who want a deep dive into the mountain’s fascinating geological history. They help tell the story of the eruption in the ’80s that gave Mount St Helens its distinctive crater-shaped top. 

Catalina Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Climb a Mountain 

Location: Mount Lemmon, Catalina Highway/Sky Island Scenic Byway

Mount Lemmon, an oasis in the middle of the desert, is 20 degrees cooler than Tucson on average. Driving up the mountain, the plants slowly change from cactus and shrubs to oak and ponderosa pines. The area offers hiking, camping, and fishing. While you are up there, consider stopping by the Mount Lemmon Cookie Cabin for cookies, pizza, chili, and sandwiches. While you’re at 9,000 feet, check out the Arizona stars at the Mount Lemmon Skycenter.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

14. Tube down the Guadalupe River

Location: Guadalupe River State Park, Texas Hill Country

Tubing down the Guadalupe River is about as Texan as it gets, and this state park welcomes you with four miles of river frontage. Just one hour from San Antonio and two hours from Austin, Guadalupe River State Park is also one of the more popular camping destinations in the state, particularly during the summertime when swimming in its cool waters is extra appealing for families and kids. When you’re not tubing, paddling, or taking a dip, embark on its hiking and biking trails. 

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

15. Escape to San Antonio’s Riverwalk

Location: San Antonio, Texas

A century ago it started as a flood management project, but today San Antonio’s Riverwalk is a flourishing urban waterway and one of the most cherished attractions in Texas. Visitors can drift underneath cypress trees by hopping on board one of the iconic riverboat tours that ply the nearly 15 miles of waterway. The banks of the river come alive all day (and all night) with musical performers, endless shops and boutiques, and numerous dining options. Plan your visit during the week of July 4th to experience the Bud Light Stars, Stripes, & Light exhibition when one thousand American flags will line the banks of the river. 

Madera Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

16. Feel the breeze at Madera Canyon

Location: Madera Canyon, Arizona

With an average high of 102, June 29 has historically been Tucson’s most often hottest day of the year. So says Weatherspark.com. From June through August, Madera Canyon’s average summer high in the low ’90s may still seem warmish but a typical light breeze and the shade from its dozen or so unique Oak species make it nice enough to bust out the cooler and camp chairs and head down I-19.  The coolest low-key adventure there is the Madera Canyon Nature Trail; it’s 5.8 miles out and back with a 921-foot elevation gain, easy for hikers. Take your binoculars because Madera Canyon is rated the third-best birding destination in the US.

Blue Bell ice cream © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

17. Take a Taste Bud Tour at Blue Bell Creameries

Location: Brenham, Texas and Sylacauga, Alabama

Learn what all fuss is about at one of the most iconic creameries in America. Can’t decide which flavor is for you? Try them all because, hey, it’s only $1 a scoop! Since 1907, Blue Bell Ice Cream has won a special place in the heart of Texans. Many would say it’s the best ice cream in the US. For anyone caring to dispute that claim, you can’t know until you try it for yourself and there is no better place to do that than straight at the source. See how the scrumptious stuff is made and learn about the history of the iconic brand before treating yourself to a sample at Blue Bell’s ice cream parlor. At just $1 a scoop, it’s one of the best things to do in the US to beat the heat this summer! 

Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

18. Refresh and Relax at Patagonia Lake

Location: Patagonia Lake State Park, 400 Patagonia Lake Road, Nogales

Whether it’s an ocean, river, or lake, water is the break everyone needs from the hot Arizona sun. Patagonia Lake State Park is an escape offering shade, water, boating activities, camping, picnic tables, and grills for summer barbecuing. The park has fully equipped cabin reservations available but these sell out fast. If you’re late to the reservation game, check out their boat-in campsites or pick from 105 of their developed campsites.

Worth Pondering…

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

—John Burroughs

What is Lyme disease and why is it Difficult to Treat?

Lyme disease can be a crippling condition for many individuals

What is Lyme disease?

The origins of Lyme disease, or borreliosis, are widely disputed. From what I understand, it was first recorded in the 1970s in Lyme, Connecticut. In 1982, the spirochete bacteria that causes Lyme disease was discovered by Willy Burgdorfer and was named Borrelia burgdorferi. Since then, the rate of Lyme disease has grown and now Lyme disease is the most prevalent tick-borne illness in the United States and Canada.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are nearly 500,000 people diagnosed with Lyme disease every year. Many natural health practitioners believe that Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens are grossly under-diagnosed and frequently missed. One 2018 study published in Healthcare (Basel, Switzerland) suggests that 12 percent of Americans could have been infected with Lyme by 2015, some 55 million people. To say this chronic illness is on the rise is an understatement.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A tick bite, usually from the eastern black-legged tick or the western black-legged tick, is the most common vector for Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.

Lyme disease can have devastating consequences on the body because it tends to create systemic inflammation, hinder immune function, and potentially trigger autoimmune disease and chronic illness. Oftentimes, these patients are so immune-suppressed that their bodies can’t fight other infections they’re exposed to.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyme disease symptoms 

There’s a wide range of symptoms for those struggling with tick-borne illness. Symptom manifestation can vary with each individual. If caught early, Lyme disease and other tick-borne pathogens can be treated relatively quickly. If left undetected, various chronic health concerns can arise, potentially contributing to a systemic inflammatory response, autoimmune disease, and chronic illness.

Related: Stay Safe this Summer by Using These Outdoor Heat Hacks

Many people who contract Lyme disease don’t recall having a tick bite because ticks can be so small. Furthermore, erythema migrans, the classic bulls-eye rash, are only reported about 70 percent of the time. Due to unreliable diagnostic criteria, these infections are also easy to miss on the frequently used laboratory tests.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The bull’s-eye rash

As mentioned, an erythema migrans rash doesn’t show up in at least 30 percent of Lyme cases. When it develops, it’s usually within 3 to 30 days after the initial bite. The rash starts relatively small and gradually expands over many days. It can reach diameters of up to 12 inches or more and appear on any area of the body. Sometimes, the skin clears as the rash enlarges, becoming a bull’s-eye shape.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Acute Lyme symptoms (3 to 32 days after tick bite)

Symptoms are varied and can include a headache, weakness, fever, fatigue, and muscle soreness. joint pain, neck pain, flu-like symptoms, swollen lymph nodes, bull’s-eye rash, dizziness, shortness of breath, nerve pain, mood changes, respiratory infections, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why is Lyme disease difficult to treat?

Lyme disease is a dreaded health condition because it’s difficult to treat. This is because Borrelia burgdorferi Spirochetes can easily change their form and adapt to treatment methods, especially antibiotics. These forms are known as persisters because they can take on various sizes and shapes, changing from well-known forms to altered morphologies.

Many believe that Lyme disease becomes chronic because a round of antibiotics is often an insufficient treatment and Borrelia can adapt in the face of antibiotics. This is why a functional, holistic approach can be valuable.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other tick-borne diseases

In addition to Borrelia Burgdorferi, ticks carry many pathogens including bacteria, parasites, and viruses that can contribute to acute and chronic illness. Listed here are some of the most common tick-borne illnesses and co-infections associated with Lyme. There are many more. With many overlapping symptoms, it’s sometimes difficult to ascertain exactly what an individual is dealing with.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Keeping Mice Out of an RV

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anaplasmosis: An infection caused by Anaplasma phagocytophilum that presents with flu-like symptoms and can be fatal if left untreated.

Babesiosis: A result of microscopic parasites transmitted through various tick species. Symptoms include fever, chills, drenching sweats, anxiety, shortness of breath, racing heart, brain fog, and nausea. Sometimes hemolytic anemia results from the parasites attacking red blood cells.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bartonella: Infections from Bartonella can cause fever, headaches, swollen lymph nodes, abdominal pain, fatigue, and poor appetite. It has also been associated with brain-based symptoms including depression, anxiety, panic disorder, and Pediatric acute-onset neuropsychiatric syndrome.

Ehrlichiosis: Ehrlichiosis symptoms include flu-like symptoms including fatigue, fever, chills, headaches, and muscle aches and pains.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mycoplasma: Mycoplasma is the smallest bacterial species known. Symptoms include fever, cough, bronchitis, sore throat, headache, and tiredness. Sometimes pneumonia is a result of mycoplasma infection.

Rickettsiosis: Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever is included in this group of infections and can be contracted anywhere in the United States. Common symptoms include fever, body aches, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and headache. It causes a red rash on the palms of the hands in 50 to 85 percent of people.

Related: Camping Awareness: Wildfire Safety Tips That Could Save Your Life

Viruses: Ticks can carry novel viruses including the Powassan virus, South Bay Virus, Laurel Lake virus, Suffolk virus, various black-legged tick phleboviruses, and numerous others.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to prevent Lyme disease?

Like any disease, Lyme disease is best avoided. While many of the most common diseases today can be held at bay with proper diet and exercise, Lyme disease requires special precautions to avoid the ticks that spread it.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Awareness in nature

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses and weeds, and leaf litter. Ticks will attach themselves to whoever brushes by. When hiking or walking in nature, stay in the middle of the path and avoid contact with the low-lying brush. Wearing light-colored clothing and long pants provides a protective barrier for the skin against ticks. Tuck pant legs into the socks to safeguard this barrier.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highest incidence of Lyme disease

According to the CDC, the areas with the highest occurrence of Lyme Disease are in the Northeast and include the states along the Atlantic seaboard from Maine in the north to Virginia in the south and Minnesota and Wisconsin in the Midwest.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Use tick repellant

Conventional recommendations to use DEET to deter ticks may prove helpful to avoid tick bites. Using essential oils in insect repellent sprays and embedded into flea and tick collars on pets is effective and safe. Research indicates that lemon eucalyptus is also a strong tick deterrent and can be as effective as DEET.

Some services spray your yard with garlic oil which is a natural tick deterrent. Many who live in Lyme endemic areas find this protective measure vitally important in preventing tick-borne pathogens from infecting their loved ones and pets.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perform daily tick checks

An obvious, but sometimes overlooked step in avoiding tick-borne illness is conducting proper tick checks when coming inside after time in nature. This should be done very thoroughly, looking in all areas of the body, especially creases.

It is helpful to use a magnifier and a flashlight to be able to spot a tick since many are the size of a poppyseed.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to properly remove a tick?

Removing an attached tick as soon as you find it is imperative to preventing illness because the longer ticks are attached, the greater their propensity to transmit pathogens. To remove an embedded tick, use a pair of needle-nose tweezers to grasp the tick as close to the skin as possible. Pull upward with steady, even pressure. Twisting or jerking can cause mouthparts to remain embedded in the skin.

Related: HURRICANE 2021 SURVIVAL GUIDE: STAYING SAFE IN YOUR RV

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are various tick removing instruments on the market as well, follow the instructions for the specific instrument when removing a tick with it. Once the tick has detached, examine the bite site to ensure the mouthparts were completely removed. Wash your hands with soap and water.

The lavender essential oil has powerful antimicrobial properties and may help kill pathogens. You can apply it (diluted in a carrier oil or neat, depending on the sensitivity of the skin) every five minutes for the first 30 to 40 minutes after removing the tick.

Ticks usually hang out in wooded areas with lots of shrubs, tall grasses, and weeds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Testing a tick

After removing the tick, it should be placed in a sealed plastic bag with a moist paper towel or cotton ball for proper pathogen testing. Testing a tick can provide insight into infections you may have been exposed to. Any tick-borne pathogen is important to treat as soon as possible so that chronic infection doesn’t set in, regardless of how the tick tests. TickReport and IGeneX offer reliable tick testing. Keep in mind that a tick-testing positive is not a guarantee of infection. If you don’t wish to test the tick, place it in a piece of tape and throw it away—preferably outside of the home.

Worth Pondering…

I know runners who have suffered a tick bite and ended up with Lyme disease. I’ll take an angry moose any day.

—Don Kardong

The Ultimate Guide to Petrified Forest National Park

See and explore one of the largest and most colorful petrified wood sites in the world

It isn’t the colorful landscapes, the winding trails, the fresh air, or even the wide-open spaces that make the Petrified Forest so interesting—though it offers all of those things. Petrified Forest is home to the world’s largest collection of petrified wood. Its lifecycle began 225 million years ago when an ancient forest was buried beneath a river system where it laid dormant for millennia.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fast forward to 60 million years ago—that is when the Colorado Plateau began uplifting to expose the trees to oxygen, fracturing them into large pieces that lay upon Earth today for us all to go and see. It’s amazing to look at. The exterior appears just like any wooden tree bark does but upon touch, it is the smoothest, hardest material you’ll ever feel. Flip it over and you’ll see a vibrantly colored, ornately designed interior made of quartz that glints with brilliance in every shift of light.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps most remarkable is that anyone can pick up a piece and examine the effects of wood exposed to the forces of nature spanning millennia. Wrap your mind around that for a moment—you can hold in your hand a piece of Earth that is 225 million years old. That alone is incredible.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the wonder doesn’t stop there. The park’s north side is home to colorful badlands at the Painted Desert and Blue Mesa where I was the most enchanted. Here the blue, purple, and ivory sculpted hills are topped with pieces of quartz. There are both petroglyphs and ancient ruins in several areas of the park that tell the story of primitive cultures and peoples.

Related Article: Triassic World: Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Park’s fallen tree fossils mostly date from the Late Triassic Epoch—a massive 225 million years ago. That means that the T-Rex that lived only 65 million years ago was much closer to our time than these fossils. Other popular activities include hiking and horse riding in this vibrant and colorful wilderness.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sediments of the Late Triassic Epoch that contain all of these trees are part of the Chinle Formation. The Late Triassic was when dinosaur life was at its most spectacular and so this is one of the sites that dinosaur lovers should visit. This formation is stunningly colorful and is where the Painted Desert gets its name. There are some fossilized animals in this park—notably the large flying reptiles and phytosaurs.

Fun Fact: Pterodactyls are not dinosaurs

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 200 million years ago, this part of what is now Arizona was a lush landscape filled with flourishing trees and other kinds of vegetation. But this was destroyed in a large volcanic explosion and the remains of this forest were preserved and embedded in the volcanic ash and water.

And there is wind—amazing wind that continues to erode Earth, exposing more wood, and shaping what is already there. Like all of the parks, once I dug in and learned more about the reason the park was protected in the first place, I wanted to stay much, much longer.

Historic Route 66 in Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If history and science aren’t your things, there is another unique draw here—this is where you can get the best of American kitsch while stepping foot onto the Mother Road: America’s Historic Route 66. Route 66 in its original form is no longer in existence but at Petrified Forest, you can visit the only section of the famed road existing inside a national park.

Nearby in the town of Holbrook lives the classic Wigwam Motel—on the National Register of Historic Places—providing a glimpse into the mid-20th century golden age of travel.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Route 66 is a classic destination that all should visit at least once in their lives. But the Mother Road won’t transport your mind’s eye to a place and time where ancient birds flew before dinosaurs roamed the planet hundreds of millions of years ago; for that experience, you’ll need to visit Petrified Forest, National Park. This is one of those places where time and age are your companions. One breath in and one lookout and you can truly sense and feel the tale of prehistoric life on Earth.

Related Article: 10 of the Best Scenic Drives in National Parks

After many millions of years of being buried, the sediment has been eroding and exposing the forest entombed within it. Today the petrified wood has been turned into quartz.

Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pueblo sites

The park boasts more than just the Petrified Forest. There are 13,000 years of human history to discover at the park. One of the main human traditions includes a nearly 800-year-old 100 room dwelling. There are around 600 archeological sites in the national park including various petroglyphs. These lands had been inhabited by pueblos but it was abandoned by around 1400.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hiking

Hiking is one of the best ways to explore the Petrified Forest National Park and there are several designated hiking trails crisscrossing the park. These trails range from less than half a mile to about three miles.

Tawa Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tawa Trail

Length: 1.2 miles one way

Trailheads: Tawa Point and Painted Desert Visitor Center

Enjoy the tranquility of the grassland as the trail leads from scenic Tawa Point to the Painted Desert Visitor Center. In Hopi ideology, Tawa refers to the Sun Spirit, the Creator of the World. The Hopi are one of several current Native American groups who are connected to the rich and varied history of the Petrified Forest.

Painted Desert Rim Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Painted Desert Rim Trail

Length: 1 mile round trip

Trailheads: Tawa Point and Kachina Point

This unpaved trail winds through the rim woodland, a place for chance encounters with many species of plants and animals and spectacular views of the Painted Desert.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Puerco Pueblo Trail

Length: 0.3 miles loop

Trailhead: Puerco Pueblo parking area

A paved walk amidst the remains of a hundred-room pueblo occupied by the ancestral Puebloan people over 600 years ago. Petroglyphs can be viewed along the south end of the trail. Please do not climb on the boulders or walls and do not touch the petroglyphs.

Related Article: The Ultimate Guide to Arizona Public Lands

Blue Mesa Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Mesa Trail

Length: 1 mile loop

Trailhead: Blue Mesa sun shelter

Descending from the mesa, this alternately paved and gravel trail loop offers the unique experience of hiking among badland hills of the bluish bentonite clay as well as petrified wood. Numerous plant and animal fossils have been found by paleontologists in the sedimentary layers of Blue Mesa.

Crystal Forest Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Crystal Forest

Length: 0.75 mile loop

Trailhead: Crystal Forest parking area

Named for the presence of beautiful crystals that can be found in the petrified logs, this trail offers one of the best opportunities to experience the petrified wood deposits.

Giant Logs Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Giant Logs

Length: 0.4 mile loop

Location: Behind Rainbow Forest Museum

Giant Logs features some of the largest and most colorful logs in the park. “Old Faithful” at the top of the trail is almost ten feet wide at the base. A trail guide is available at Rainbow Forest Museum.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodation

No accommodation is available within the park. Boondocking, primitive camping, and pulling off to spend the night in a parking area are not permitted.

The gateway to the park is the town of Holbrook. It is around 20 miles to the west of the park and offers a full range of accommodation options. We used OK RV Park as our home base while exploring Petrified National Park. Easily accessible from I-40, the 150 pull-through gravel sites offer water and sewer connections and the choice of 30 or 50 amp electric service.

Related Article: Why Arizona is the Ultimate Road Trip Destination

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fact Box

Size: 93,533 acres with more than half as dedicated Wilderness area

Date established: December 9, 1962 (established as a National Monument by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1906)

Location: Northeast Arizona (the nearest town is Holbrook)

Park elevation: Averages 5,400 feet

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Weather: Petrified Forest National Park is a semi-arid grassland. Temperatures range from above 100 degrees to well below freezing. About 10 inches of moisture comes during infrequent snow in the winter and often violent summer thunderstorms. Check out the forecast before you arrive and plan accordingly.

Operating hours: Every day year-round (closed on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day). Park hours are 8 am to 6 pm. You must enter the park before 5 pm. Remember that this is Mountain Standard year-round as Arizona does not observe Daylight Saving Time.

Park entrance fee: $25 per private vehicle, valid for 7 days

Recreational visits (2021): 590,334

Roads: Historic Route 66 and I-40 run through the park

Wild animals in the park: Bobcats, pronghorns, coyotes, and over 200 species of birds

How the park got its name: Petrified Forest was named after a wilderness of 225 million-year-old trees that have, over time, turned into solid quartz (and not from being petrified with fear)

Painted Desert, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Iconic site in the park: The colorful Painted Desert that stretches from the Grand Canyon is the best-known landmark at Petrified Forest and it greets you right as you cross through the northern boundary of the park. It was given its name by Spanish explorers who thought the clay and mudstone badlands looked like a sunset painted onto the landscape. This landmark is a protected Wilderness area so you won’t be exploring its interior by car (although there are viewpoints that you can pull up to). The best way to explore it is to head out on foot on a 1-mile unpaved loop trail where you can see the picturesque rim from a different vantage point.

Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A must-see cultural stop nearby is at the 100-year-old Painted Desert Inn where you can view in real life restored mural art created by famed Hopi artist Fred Kabotie.

Did you know?

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park has a world class fossil record with artifacts dating to the Triassic Period, 200 million years ago, before the Jurassic Period when dinosaurs roamed our home planet. The Triassic era is known as the “Dawn of the Dinosaurs.”  

Petrified Forest is home to fossils of massive crocodile-like creatures known as Phytosaurs as well as remnants from 13,000 years of human history including the remains of villages, tools, and grinding stones.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Archeological relics prove that humans have lived in the area for more than 10,000 years. 

Some of the trees in the park measure up to 200 feet—about the length of the wingspan of a 747 jet. 

Petrified Forest is the only national park where a segment of Route 66 exists.   

Painted Desert Inn, Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the wall of the historic Painted Desert Inn you can visually wander along the path of the Native American people in the area as depicted in a painting by famed Hopi artist, Fred Kapotie. 

Worth Pondering…

Quite a forest of petrified trees was discovered today…they are converted into beautiful specimens of variegated jasper. One trunk was measured ten feet in diameter, and more than one hundred feet in length…

—Lieutenant Amiel Weeks Whipple, 1853