Warning: Lots of Nuts Inside

This is one really big nut

Two of the largest pistachio tree groves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

Related Article: World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pistachio probably originated in Central Asia where large stands of wild trees are found in areas known today as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Evidence indicates that fruits of the tree have been eaten for over 8,000 years. The first commercial plantings in these countries were most likely started from seeds collected from the best wild trees.

The tree was introduced into Mediterranean Europe at about the beginning of the Christian era. The elevation and climate in the Tularosa Basin is almost identical to the pistachio producing areas of Iran and Turkey.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scientific name for the pistachio is Pistacia vera L. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which contains such widely known plants as the cashew, mango, sumach, and poison ivy.

Pistachio trees grow in dry climates and can reach up to 39 feet in height. In the spring, the trees develop grape-like clusters of green colored fruits, known as drupes, which gradually harden and turn red.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Within the fruit is a green and purple seed which is the edible part of the fruit. As the fruits ripen, the shell hardens and splits open with a pop exposing the seed within. The fruits are picked, hulled, dried, and often roasted before being sold.

Because pistachios are the seed of a drupe, they are not a true botanical nut. In fact, they’re the edible seed of the pistachio tree fruit. However, in the culinary world pistachios are treated as nuts and they’re also classified as a tree nut allergen.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a deciduous tree requiring approximately 1,000 hours of temperature at or below 45 degrees in order to grow normally after its winter dormancy. Pistachio nut trees are generally suited for areas where summers are long, hot, and dry and the winters are moderately cold. A native desert tree, it does not tolerate high humidity in the growing season.

Related Article: Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

Although the pistachio was first introduced into California by the US Department of Agriculture about 1904, little interest was generated until the 1950s. Since that time pistachios have become a significant farm commodity in California.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plantings have also been made in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in those areas that meet the climate criteria. The tree flourishes and bears well in well-drained soils, but its root system will not tolerate prolonged wet conditions. It seems more tolerant to alkaline and saline conditions than most other commercial trees. The vigor and productive life of the tree is extremely long lasting. In the mid-East, there are trees on record of having productivity of several hundred years.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pistachio is a small tree, reaching about 30 feet of height at full maturity. Usual commercial plantings are approximately 120 trees per acre. The trees begin to produce nuts in the fourth or fifth year after planting with good production taking 8 to 10 years and full bearing maturity occurring after 15 to 20 years. Average yield per tree is one-half pound the fifth year increasing to 20 pounds at maturity.

McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large percentage of pistachios are marketed in the shell for eating-out-of-the-hand snack food. Pistachios are a rich source of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol free, increasing numbers of people are discovering how enjoyable this delicious nut can be.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Pistachio Trivia

  • Pistachios are called “smiling nut” in the Middle East
  • Pistachio shells usually split naturally when ripe
  • Pistachios are wind-pollinated and one male tree is required for up to 30 female trees
  • In China pistachios are called “happy nut”
  • Pistachios are said to have grown in the hanging gardens of Babylon and were a favorite of King Nebuchadnezzar
  • The Kerman variety is grown in the US
McGinn’s PistachioLand © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I think pistachios are delicious!

Read Next: The New Mexico Green Chile Peppers Guide

 Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Celebrating all things Pistachio on National Pistachio Day

Celebrating Pistachios annually on February 26, known as National Pistachio Day and World Pistachio Day and loving them all year long

Hard to believe, but it wasn’t until 1976 that Americans harvested the first commercial crop of pistachios. They had been enjoying the nut since about the 1800s but it was not until the 1930s that the love for pistachios really took off. What may have made the little tree nut so admired, though, is the invention of pistachio ice cream in the 1940s by James W. Parkinson of Philadelphia.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

February 26th recognizes all things pistachio and National Pistachio Day is the day to celebrate! Pistachio lovers rejoice as they eat their favorite nut all day long. For those who do not eat pistachios, buy some and give them to someone who does. Crack them open and eat them up or enjoy them in ice cream or your favorite pistachio dessert!

The pistachio probably originated in Central Asia where large stands of wild trees are found in areas known today as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Evidence indicates that the fruits of the tree have been eaten for over 8,000 years. The first commercial plantings in these countries were most likely started from seeds collected from the best wild trees. Legend has it that for the promise of good fortune lovers met beneath the trees to hear the pistachios crack open on moonlit nights. 

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanks to their high nutritional value and long storage life, pistachios were an indispensable form of sustenance among early explorers and traders including travelers across the ancient Silk Road that connected China with the West. In the first century A.D., Emperor Vitellius introduced Rome to the pistachio. Apicius, Rome’s Julia Child of the time, included pistachios in his classical cookbook.

Related Article: World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

The scientific name for pistachio is Pistacia vera L. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which contains such widely known plants as cashew, mango, sumach, and poison ivy.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio trees grow in dry climates and can reach up to 39 feet in height. In the spring, the trees develop grape-like clusters of green-colored fruits, known as drupes, which gradually harden and turn red.

Within the fruit is a green and purple seed which is the edible part of the fruit. As the fruits ripen, the shell hardens and splits open with a pop exposing the seed within. The fruits are picked, hulled, dried, and often roasted before being sold.

Because pistachios are the seed of a drupe, they are not a true botanical nut. In fact, they’re the edible seed of the pistachio tree fruit. However, in the culinary world pistachios are treated as nuts and they’re also classified as a tree nut allergen.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a deciduous tree requiring approximately 1,000 hours of temperature at or below 45 degrees in order to grow normally after its winter dormancy. Pistachio trees are generally suited for areas where summers are long, hot, and dry and the winters are moderately cold. A native desert tree, it does not tolerate high humidity in the growing season.

The pistachio nut is one of the most popular tree nuts in the world and is valued globally for its nutritional value, health, and sensory attributes, and economic importance.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio nuts are relatively low in sugar (approximately 10 percent) and high in protein (20 percent) and oil (50 percent) contents. The oil is 90 percent unsaturated fatty acids, 70 percent of which is oleic acid and 20 percent the more desirable linoleic acid.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large percentage of pistachios are marketed in the shell for eating-out-of-the-hand snack food. Pistachios are a rich source of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol-free, increasing numbers of people are discovering how enjoyable this delicious nut can be.

Related: 12 Must-See Roadside Attractions for the Perfect Road Trip

Although the pistachio was first introduced into California by the US Department of Agriculture about 1904, little interest was generated until the 1950s. Since that time pistachios have become a significant farm commodity in California.

World’s Largest Pistachio at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Plantings have also been made in Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas in those areas that meet the climate criteria. The tree flourishes and bears well in well-drained soils but its root system will not tolerate prolonged wet conditions. It seems more tolerant to alkaline and saline conditions than most other commercial trees. The vigor and productive life of the tree are extremely long-lasting. In the mid-East, there are trees on record of having productivity of several hundred years.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usual commercial plantings are approximately 120 trees per acre. The trees begin to produce nuts in the fourth or fifth year after planting with good production taking 8 to 10 years and full bearing maturity occurring after 15 to 20 years. The average yield per tree is one-half pound the fifth year increasing to 20 pounds at maturity.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachios have always been on the pricier end of the nut scale costing three or four times as much as other nuts. Generally eaten roasted and salted as a dessert nut, the pistachio is often used in cooking as a garnish or decoration in sweet and savory dishes.

China is the top pistachio consumer worldwide with annual consumption of 80,000 tons while the United States consumes 45,000 tons. Russia follows with consumption of 15,000 tons followed by India at 10,000 tons.

Related: Wake Up In New Mexico

Pistachios ripen in late summer or early fall growing so energetically that the kernel splits the shell. These trees are wind-pollinated which means one male tree can produce enough pollen for 25 nut-bearing female trees. Female trees produce their first nuts at age five and can bear fruit for up to 200 years.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Pistachio Day activities

1. Be a “pistachi”-oholic for the day

Try and go nuts today by incorporating pistachios into every meal. These versatile nuts have a powerful flavor that can elevate a sweet or savory dish throughout your day. Start off with a stack of pistachio pancakes, ease into lunch with pistachio, pomegranate, and arugula salad, then enjoy pistachio encrusted salmon for dinner, and top it all off with some pistachio gelato.

Eagle Ranch Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. Give the gift of good health

Think of ways to food swap some of your not-so-good snacks with pistachios and introduce your friends to these green goodies too. They’re healthy, delicious, and by wrestling them from their shells, they help down your food intake (Ever heard of the Pistachio Effect?). Pistachios might be the golden (green) ticket to helping you and your friends keep those new year diet resolutions.

World’s Largest Pistachio at McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Eat your heart out

These green nuts will make your heart smile too. Heart-healthy monounsaturated fat makes up the majority of the fat in pistachios, so they decrease bad cholesterol and even lower your risk of heart disease. There’s no better way to celebrate than getting your snack on, guilt-free. Grab a handful (or two) and go nuts!

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fun Facts

What’s in a name?

That which we call pistachio is known as the “smiling nut” in Iran and the “happy nut” in China. They’re also known as the “green almond.” Where’s the green come from? Pistachios are the “colorful” nut, owing to their green and purple hue to antioxidants.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chock full of nutrition

Pistachios are a good source of protein, fiber, magnesium, thiamin, and phosphorus. They’re an excellent source of vitamin B6, copper, and manganese.

McGinn’s Pistachio Tree Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Surprise relationships

Among its “kissing cousins”: pistachios are related to the mango and the spice sumac.

A queen-sized craving

Perhaps the original royal nut, the Queen of Sheba loved pistachios. In fact, she demanded that the entire region’s pistachio harvest be set aside for her.

Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here’s to your heart

Scientific evidence suggests that eating 1.5 ounces per day of most nuts, such as pistachios, as part of a diet low in saturated fat and cholesterol may reduce the risk of heart disease.

Read Next: Light Your Fires on National Chili Day

Worth Pondering…

The pistachio: it’s just like our politics. When the two sides are divided, that’s when the nuts come out.

―Stephen Colbert

Make Today Romantic by Putting the iPhone Away

Today is a wonderful day for a luxury RV resort getaway

Okay, so I’ve done some research and St. Valentine was a real dude who died sometime around A.D. 270.

Well, it’s more complicated than that since there were a bunch of different St. Valentines. A lot of them were martyrs and one was beheaded. You can see a flower-adorned skull of one of those St. Valentines in Rome (if you are so inclined). The official St. Valentine is the patron saint of beekeepers and epilepsy (Kill two birds at once, eh!).

Pecan pie at Friday’s Fried Chicken in Shiner, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Many people believe that the genius medieval poet Geoffrey Chaucer is who officially invented the holiday when he wrote a poem called “Parliament of Foules” (sounds like a great title for my memoir!) which links the St. Valentine’s feast day to “courtly love,” aka an extramarital affair between a married noblewoman and a knight like Garth Brooks sang in one of his many hits, “The Thunder Roars”.

Rebecca Ruth Chocolates in Frankfort, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Okay, phew, I’m exhausted from all that history! My point is, you can make Valentine’s Day about whatever you want it to be about. If you want it to be about love and Godiva, so be it! If you want to make it about being a martyr and complaining, that is your right! Or if you just want to say, today is about bees, epilepsy, and medieval poetry—I think that could be a fun twist on the usual parade of candy hearts and red roses. I commend you!

Tremblor Brewing in Bakersfield, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking to history can be really helpful sometimes because it reminds us that most of the things that we think mean one thing now actually meant a completely different thing a long time ago so why not embrace the mess of time and the confusion of meaning!

Shiner brews at the brewery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As always, I’m here to help with lots of different ideas for how to think about today. Want to bliss out with something deeply satisfying in Shiner, Texas. Prosit! That’s what ought to come out of your mouth before the refreshing goodness that is a free beer goes into it. (It’s a toast that means “good health.”) I have just the article for you!

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want to imagine you’re the protagonist of a romance novel set in Savannah, Georgia? Savannah wears its Southern charm like its majestic oak trees wear soft Spanish moss—with pure, old-fashioned elegance. You’ve come to the right place! What’s more romantic than a carriage ride around Savannah? Savannah is enchanting after dusk as you meander under age-old live oaks draped with moss, listening to the soothing sounds of the clip-clop of the horse. Countless love stories in Savannah’s history started with a carriage ride.

Related: Savannah: Southern Charm, History & Spanish Moss

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Searching for a romantic getaway? If the red-rock cliffs that preside over Sedona don’t make you pause, it’s time to book a trip to Mars, because Earth has nothing left to offer. In the early evening, the spires reflect a reddish-purple hue that no photo could ever hope to do justice. Whether or not you subscribe to New Age beliefs, it’s easy to understand why people say there’s an energy here that’s different than anywhere else on the planet.

KatySweet pecan pralines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for pecan pralines for Valentine’s Day? Search no more! KatySweet offers three different styles of pralines: Original Creamy, Texas-Style Chewy, and No Sugar Added. These Texas-style chewy pralines are made with rich, buttery caramel, fresh organic Southern pecans, and natural maple syrup. Mmm, delicious. Don’t you deserve to feel good about what you eat? This savory candy will dazzle the senses.

Related: Pecan Pralines a Sweet Tradition

Flavored pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want a nutty treat? I’ve got you covered. McGinn’s PistachioLand, the nuttiest place in New Mexico, offers an array of gift packages. The unique high desert conditions in Alamogordo produce exquisite tasting pistachios. They have also created their own unique blend of spices and flavors and roast the pistachios in many varieties like garlic, Habanero Limon, black pepper, lemon-lime, ranch, spicy ranch, barbeque, red chili, green chili, and classic salted. Their pistachio candies including Pistachio Brittle and Atomic Hot Chili Pistachio Brittle are unique and delicious. Into roadside attractions, McGinn’s is home to the World’s Largest Pistachio, a one-of-a-kind mammoth outdoor sculpture.

Related: Announcing the Absolutely Best Campgrounds and RV Parks for 2022

And finally…the very best in luxury RV resorts for that Valentine’s Day getaway? Yes, please.

The MotorCoach Resort in Chandler, Arizona The MotorCoach Resort in Chandler, Arizona

A luxury RV park or a motorcoach resort sparkles and catches the eye of every RVer who pulls onto the supersized sites. Depending on the resort, upgraded RV sites offer numerous amenities that may include long driveways, casitas, patios with propane grills and outdoor furniture, grass-lined concrete pads, outdoor lighting, gas fire pits, and even fenced-in areas for dogs. Luxury sites almost always have full hookups, shade trees, satellite or cable services, and quality Wi-Fi.

Bella Terra of Gulf Resorts, Alabama Gulf Coast © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And yes, I’ve got you covered.

Whether you want to look to the past for answers, the present for romance, or the future for spring road trips, I hope RVing with Rex can help. If you’re snuggling up with your loved one today, bless you! If you’re courting someone new, godspeed. If you’re alone and loving it (or hating it), I hope you remember that St. Valentine didn’t get beheaded so that you could feel lonely! Call a friend, write a medieval poem to Chaucer (he is listening), or make awkward small talk with your Uber Eats delivery guy!

Related: 10 RV Parks across America that are One Step above the Rest

The Springs at Borrego RV and Gulf Resort in Borrego Springs, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the candy hearts say: “Fax Me”!

Worth Pondering…

Valentines Day

All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.

―Charles M. Schulz

10 Amazing Places to RV in November

If you’re dreaming of where to travel to experience it all, here are my picks for the best places to RV in November

Winter has officially arrived in the northern states and Canada which means getting up and going home in the dark usually in the cold and blowing snow. It is snowbird season, time to head south until the sunlight finally peeps through again around March or April. Happily, San Antonio and other southern cities are basking in a mellow, pre-Christmas glow.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out my monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in August, September, and October. Also, check out my recommendations from November 2020.

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Discover history, culture, and autumn beauty along Georgia’s scenic byways. The 41-mile loop of the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is the only route in the state that’s also designated a National Scenic Byway. Coursing through the mountains of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the route traverses several state highways including SR-17/75, SR-180, and SR-348. Panoramic views are plentiful, none more spectacular than the one from Brasstown Bald, Georgia’s highest point at 4,784 feet. Visitors can still walk the roughly half-mile, uphill paved path to the observation tower at the summit.

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Outdoor activities abound along the route, especially hiking. The Appalachian Trail crosses the byway in two spots, at Unicoi Gap and Hogpen Gap. Parking areas at each trailhead allow day visitors to take out-and-back hikes on the famed 2,190-mile trail connecting Georgia to Maine. Download an interactive map from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy at appalachiantrail.org. Other short trails lead to cascading waterfalls such as Raven Cliff Falls, High Shoals Falls, and the impressive double cascade of Anna Ruby Falls.

Related: The 8 Best Things to Do this Fall in Georgia

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three state parks are on or near the byway. Anglers come to Smithgall Woods State Park to cast a line in the celebrated trout stream of Duke’s Creek. Take a trip through the treetops on the Unicoi Zipline and Aerial Adventure Tour at Unicoi State Park and Lodge. Vogel State Park, one of Georgia’s two original state parks, sits at the base of Blood Mountain near the byway and offers a great view of the mountain from its 20-acre lake with a beach. Accommodations at Vogel and Unicoi include cottages and RV campsites. Smithgall Woods has cottages but no individual campsites.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The closest town to the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway is Helen, the small Bavarian-themed town with an array of shopping, dining, and lodging options.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The San Antonio River Walk

The San Antonio River Walk boasts sightseeing, shopping, dining, and incredibly rich history. This world-renowned 15-mile waterway has been setting the standard for river walks internationally for decades. Visit La Villita Historic Arts Village, a community and home to nearly 30 shops and galleries selling locally made jewelry, pottery, folk art, textiles, and other handcrafted items by local artists. Plus, in the midst of these tree-lined walkways and plazas, enjoy a savory culinary experience at the area restaurants with options ranging from traditional Mexican flavors to steakhouse favorites. Or step into Casa Rio which is the oldest restaurant on the banks of the River Walk.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, visit the San Antonio Museum of Art (SAMA) to learn about the city’s rich cultural heritage. (SAMA) takes you around the world and through five thousand years of art in a complex of buildings that once housed the Lone Star Brewery. SAMA is renowned for the most comprehensive ancient Greek, Roman, and Egyptian art collection in the southern United States.

Mission San José © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally, trek to visit the four historic missions at the San Antonio’s Missions National Historical Park. Along with the Alamo, the park was named the first World Heritage Site in Texas by the United Nations Organization for Education, Science, and Culture (UNESCO) and includes the city’s four southernmost Spanish colonial missions—Concepción, San José, San Juan, and Espada. In the 18th century, Spanish priests established these five Catholic missions along the San Antonio River. The missions are walled compounds encompassing a church and buildings where the priests and local Native Americans lived.

Related: The 20 Best Road Trips from San Antonio

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

As an RVer who loves visiting new areas and returning to favorite haunts, I’ve often asked my favorite areas to explore. It’s always interesting to see the confusion on the faces of the questioners when my response is New Mexico.

“But isn’t that just aliens and, like, the desert?”

Las Cruces Farmers & Crafts Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re into alien stuff and the desert, you’ll certainly find them here. But you’ll also find so much more. New Mexico is incredibly diverse. While visiting the Land of Enchantment, I’ve camped in the desert, hiked up huge white sand dunes, and down into deep caverns. I’ve explored diverse craft and farmer’s markets and wandered through some of the most amazing art installations and galleries. New Mexico is where I’ve eaten the best meals, explored pecan and pistachio farms, and watched the most epic sunsets of my life. I’ve met incredibly talented artists along the way and visited historic churches and pueblos.

The aliens of Roswell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What I’m saying is: New Mexico is special. It’s quirky and mystical and down to earth all at once. It’s full of adventure and relaxation and history. It’s also the home to one of the newest designated National Park—White Sands—a truly otherworldly experience. Need more reasons to visit?

Related: Wake Up In New Mexico

La Posta de Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come for the adventure followed by hatch chili cheeseburgers and craft beer!

Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.” I couldn’t agree more.

Forest Center, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Largest Trees in the World

Located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range, Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are two separate parks but due to their proximity to one another, they’re often visited together.

Sherman Tree © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park is home to two notable natural wonders: Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the lower 48 states at 14,505 feet above sea level, and the General Sherman Tree, the largest tree in the world by volume. Both are impressive sights!

Kings Canyon National Park to the north of Sequoia is also home to giant trees including the largest remaining grove on the planet at Redwood Canyon. The landscape in Kings Canyon rivals that of Yosemite with towering granite canyon walls, lush meadows, and the picturesque King River that flows throughout the park.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While both parks together make up a whopping 865,964 acres, over 90 percent of that land is designated wilderness with no roads or vehicle access. There are numerous opportunities for incredible overnight backpacking trips in the backcountry, though, if you want to plan for that on your California road trip.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Seaside, Florida

In The Truman Show, Jim Carrey played a guy who unknowingly stars in a reality show, set in an impossibly idyllic beach town. That’s Seaside, and it required very little effort to make Truman’s hometown seem like a paradise of pastel-colored houses and dreamlike beaches. It’s worth a stop if you want to squeal with delight while strolling through town and stopping at landmarks like the famous white post office. When the post office was built just over 30 years ago, it was only the second civic building in Seaside and was established o create the perception that the community was “real” at a time when Seaside and surrounding communities were just beginning to emerge.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the coolest features of Seaside is Airstream Row. A group of restaurants—like Crepes du Soleil and Frost Bites—set up shop in Airstreams along 30A, lending a little funk to the picturesque scenery. If you prefer to sit down with a grand view of the water, grab a table at Bud & Alley’s which serves classic Gulf fare like grilled head-on shrimp and seafood gumbo.

Seaside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are more than cute eateries and buildings in Seaside. Sundog Books is an absolute must: an independent bookstore that’s been open for 30 years. If you need a beach read, or just want to support a cool local business, this is a worthy stop.

World’s Largest Pistachio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lots of Nuts Inside

Two of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand and Eagle Ranch are destinations that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo they are easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park. With an average of 287 days of sunshine, outdoor activities abound throughout the area. 

Eagle Ranch Pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

Eagle Ranch pistachios © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor.

Free samples at McGinn’s Country Store © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eagle Ranch is the home of New Mexico’s largest producing pistachio groves with approximately 13,000 trees. Wines were added to the product line in 2002. The main store, on the ranch in Alamogordo, offers farm tours that showcase how pistachios are grown and processed. A second store is conveniently located in the historic village of Mesilla.

St. Mary’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Mary’s, Georgia

Many folks pass through St. Mary’s on their way to Cumberland Island. But this seaside gem is more than just a place to kill a few hours between ferries. Shops and eateries cluster around the picturesque waterfront. (Swing by Lang’s Marina Restaurant for mouthwatering crab cakes.) The St. Mary’s Submarine Museum entices visitors with an extensive collection of memorabilia and photographs. And you’d probably be surprised to learn this postcard-worthy port can lay claim to the oldest continuously operating church in Georgia.

Kemah Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kemah Boardwalk, Kemah, Texas

Kemah is a city on Galveston Bay and a place I think doesn’t get enough hype. Many people pass right by, heading for the island. But, only 20 miles from downtown Houston right on the bay sits Kemah Boardwalk with entertainment galore for the whole family. It offers an amusement park with fun and exciting rides, waterfront dining, festivals, and seaside shows. Shopping and dining are a huge part of the boardwalk.

Kemah Boardwalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We went on a cool day in November to walk around the bay and noticed that some rides and attractions were not operating plus it was a bit chilly but we were still entertained by the sights, sounds, and dining options. There are also other dining alternatives in the nearby Kemah Lighthouse District. Kemah Boardwalk is open year-round.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montezuma Castle National Monument, Arizona

Although Montezuma Castle National Monument is a small site, its history runs deep. Located in the Verde Valley 25 miles south of Sedona, it was established in 1906 to preserve Indigenous American culture. The compact site almost feels like a diorama of an ancient village built by the Sinagua people who inhabited the valley as far back as 650. A short pathway lined with sycamores and catclaw mimosa trees leads to the limestone cliff where a 20-room building peeks out from above.

Beaver Creek at Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built by the Sinagua people around 1050, the castle is a well-preserved example of architectural ingenuity. The placement of rooms on the south-facing cliff helps regulate summer and winter temperatures. Its elevated location provides protection from Beaver Creek’s annual flooding, plus it functions as a lookout. 

Montezuma Well © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive 11 miles north to see the Montezuma Well which is part of the national monument. Along with the limestone sinkhole, cliff dwellings and irrigation channels are characteristic of the prehistoric people who have lived in the area dating back to 11,000. The water in the well which is 386 feet across has high levels of arsenic and other chemicals but it still supports endemic species such as water scorpions, snails, mud turtles, and leeches.

Olive tree along the Tehama Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tehama Trail, California

The Tehama Trail is a surprisingly fertile area—a prime place for farms and ranches. Many invite visitors to stop in and buy fresh produce, artisanal olive oils, and other local food products.

Lucero Olive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trail links together nearly two dozen vineyards, orchards, grass-fed beef ranchers, and other specialty meat producers. Hop onto the route at any point but the driving tour technically begins in Corning, a town known for olives. Stop by the iconic Olive Pit for samples of traditional olives, or try more exotic options, like herb-and-garlic-cheese-stuffed Sicilian olives. Head over to Lucero Olive Oil to sample artisanal olive oils and vinegar and shop for gifts.

Lucero Olive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Continue along the trail to sample and buy heirloom tomatoes, juice-down-your-chin peaches and plums, and berries as well as fresh pies and honey. Swing by New Clairvaux Vineyard in tiny Vina, just south of Redding where Trappist monks invite you to sample their Barbera, Pinot Grigio, and other varietals in a large tasting room on the monastery grounds.

Sandhill cranes prepare for takeoff at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Established in 1939 to protect migrating waterfowl, Bosque Del Apache National Wildlife Refuge is home to more than 350 species of birds. Tens of thousands of Snow Geese and Sandhill Crane winter in the refuge as well as Ross’s Geese and many species of duck. Friends of the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge host a Festival of the Cranes in November (weekend before Thanksgiving) that includes events, classes, and even a photography contest. A 12-mile auto tour and numerous hiking trails are the primary means of exploring the refuge.

Related: The Mind-Blowing Enchantment of New Mexico: San Antonio & Bosque del Apache

Worth Pondering…

Days decrease,

And autumn grows, autumn in everything.

―Robert Browning

World’s Largest Pistachio Nut

This is one really big nut

As the world comes to a standstill as we try to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (Coronavirus), we encourage all of you to hunker down right now, too. In the meantime, we’ll keep posting articles to help you navigate the state of RV travel as well as stories about places for you to put on your bucket list once it’s safe to get back on the road again.

One of the largest pistachio tree grooves in New Mexico, PistachioLand is a destination that can be enjoyed by all ages. Located in the Tularosa Basin outside of Alamogordo it’s an easy day trips from Las Cruces and can be combined with a visit to White Sands National Park.  

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Tularosa Basin has the perfect climate for growing pistachios, pecans, and grapes.  There are numerous wineries and nut farms where you can enjoy delicious wine and nut tastings and beautiful views of the Sacramento Mountains.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

PistachioLand is the home of the World’s Largest Pistachio, Pistachio Tree Ranch, McGinn’s Country Store, and Arena Blanca Winery. Experience their motorized farm tour, take your photo with the World’s Largest Pistachio, shop inside their country store for farm grown and hand crafted goodies, sit on the porch with views of the mountains, try their free samples at the pistachio bar, enjoy the wine tasting room, and grab a sweet treat in PistachioLand ice cream parlor. There is so much to see and experience at McGinn’s PistachioLand.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The World’s Largest Pistachio was built in honor of PistachioLand’s founder, Thomas McGinn. After his passing in 2008, his son, Timothy McGinn erected the 30 foot sculpture in memory of his father. Tim wanted everyone who passed by PistachioLand to take note of what his dad created, a 111-acre pistachio orchard and vineyard started from bare desert land in 1980. From the first trees planted to today, PistachioLand now is home to over 12,000 pistachio trees and 14 acres of wine grapes. 

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A bronze plaque at the base of the nut states that, “Tom dreamed big, expected big, and accomplished big things. He would have said the monument is not big enough!”

The pistachio probably originated in Central Asia where large stands of wild trees are found in areas known today as Iran, Turkey, and Afghanistan. Evidence indicates that fruits of the tree have been eaten for over 8,000 years. The first commercial plantings in these countries were most likely started from seeds collected from the best wild trees.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tree was introduced into Mediterranean Europe at about the beginning of the Christian era. The elevation and climate in the Tularosa Basin is almost identical to the pistachio producing areas of Iran and Turkey.

The scientific name for the pistachio is Pistacia vera L. It is a member of the Anacardiaceae family which contains such widely known plants as the cashew, mango, sumach, and poison ivy.

The pistachio nut is one of the most popular tree nuts in the world and is valued globally for its nutritional value, health and sensory attributes, and economic importance.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio nuts are relatively low in sugar (approximately 10 percent) and high in protein (20 percent) and oil (50 percent) contents. The oil is 90 percent unsaturated fatty acids, 70 percent of which is oleic acid and 20 percent the more desirable linoleic acid.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pistachio trees grow in dry climates and can reach up to 39 feet in height. In the spring, the trees develop grape-like clusters of green colored fruits, known as drupes, which gradually harden and turn red.

Within the fruit is a green and purple seed which is the edible part of the fruit. As the fruits ripen, the shell hardens and splits open with a pop exposing the seed within. The fruits are picked, hulled, dried, and often roasted before being sold.

Because pistachios are the seed of a drupe, they are not a true botanical nut. In fact, they’re the edible seed of the pistachio tree fruit. However, in the culinary world pistachios are treated as nuts and they’re also classified as a tree nut allergen.

It is a deciduous tree requiring approximately 1,000 hours of temperature at or below 45 degrees in order to grow normally after its winter dormancy. Pistachio nut trees are generally suited for areas where summers are long, hot, and dry and the winters are moderately cold. A native desert tree, it does not tolerate high humidity in the growing season.

McGinn’s Pistachioland Ranch © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A large percentage of pistachios are marketed in the shell for eating-out-of-the-hand snack food. Pistachios are a rich source of essential nutrients, fiber, and protein. Low in saturated fat and cholesterol free, increasing numbers of people are discovering how enjoyable this delicious nut can be.

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life. —Georgia O’Keeffe