Connect with Nature at McDowell Mountain Regional Park

There’s a whole world of outdoor adventure awaiting you right outside the city of Phoenix

Nestled in the lower Verde River basin, this 21,099-acre park is a desert jewel in the northeast Valley. Elevations in the park rise to 3,000 feet along the western boundary at the base of the McDowell Mountains. Visitors enjoy over 50 miles of multi-use trails and spectacular views of the surrounding mountain ranges. A stroll through the park will allow visitors to likely see deer, javelina, birds, and coyotes.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain History

Arizona… a place of legends still conveyed through movies, T.V., the written word, and many storytellers. Maricopa County through its Regional Park system encompasses areas where many stories originated. McDowell Mountain Regional Park is one such place where history is not only a form of speculation with its Indian petroglyphs and archaeological sites but considerable amount of it actually transpired and has been documented.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 2,000 years ago nomadic big game hunters spread into southwest North America. Next, the Hohokam Indians who evolved from the earlier Cochise culture plus immigrants from Mexico occupied much of Southern Arizona from about 2,000 years ago to 1450 A.D. The Spanish arrived between 1540 and 1542 under the leadership of Francisco Vázquez de Coronodo. At that time, the areas near the confluence of the Salt and Verde Rivers was home to between 4,000 and 10,000 Hohokam Indians. Native activities ranged from intensive agriculture with river irrigation to nomadic hunting and gathering. McDowell Park contains the remains of several such hunting and gathering sites within its boundaries.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1865, Camp McDowell was founded on the west bank of the Verde River. Remaining a permanent military post until 1890, it was the only fort inside present boundaries of Maricopa County. Remains of the fort still exist in the present day village of Fort McDowell, a few miles southeast of McDowell Mountain Park. Due to the presence of Camp McDowell and the protection it offered, settlement in the Salt River Valley was permanent. On February 12, 1871, Maricopa County was created to serve the growing population.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Hiking Trails

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers over 40-miles of hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding trails. Park Trails range in length from 0.5-miles to 15.3-miles and range in difficulty from easy to strenuous. Those looking for an easy hike should try the North Trail at 3.1-miles. Those looking for a good workout for themselves or their horses should try the Pemberton at 15.3-miles. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going. Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen, and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 10th 1998 McDowell Park opened the 1st of 3 loops of a new competitive track. Today, the track offers three loops totaling 15 miles: one for the experts, one for intermediate riders, and one for the average rider. Each loop offers a variety of obstacles to test the riders’ skills. The track consists of steep inclines, swooping turns, technical descents, and rugged terrain. This competitive track is geared for mountain bikers who want to test their skills. Joggers and equestrian riders are welcome to give the track a try too. The Long Loop of the track was designed for the average rider but is used by all. The Sport Loop is for intermediate riders and experts. The Technical Loop is for the expert rider. This portion of the track offers swooping turns, very technical descents, and steep inclines.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​McDowell Mountain Picnic Areas

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers two picnic areas totaling 88 picnic sites. Each site has a picnic table, restroom, playground, and barbecue grill. Picnic sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at McDowell Mountain

McDowell Mountain Regional Park offers 76 individual sites for tent or RV camping. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45-foot RV and is a developed site with water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, and barbecue fire ring. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. The south loop of the campground also offers handicapped-accessible restrooms. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Large groups can reserve one of three campgrounds within McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Group Campgrounds can be reserved for a fee and requires a commitment of six units to utilize the facility for dry camping. Group Campgrounds provide a 3-acre parking area to accommodate up to 30 RV units and offer restroom with flush toilets and hot water showers, a covered ramada with 6 picnic tables, a large barbecue grill, and a large fire ring for campfires.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

McDowell Mountain Regional Park

Location: From central Phoenix, take Loop 202 east to Beeline Highway (SR 87). Continue northeast on SR 87 to Shea Blvd. Travel west on Shea Blvd. to Saguaro Blvd.; turn north. Continue through Town of Fountain Hills to Fountain Hills Blvd; turn right and travel four miles to the McDowell Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

McDowell Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Dorothy B. Hughes

What Makes Arizona Such a Hotspot for Snowbirds?

Arizona not only has a warm, dry climate in the winter, it is also home to some of the Southwest’s most dramatic scenery

Every winter, Arizona sees an influx of snowbirds from out of state. They come to enjoy the mild sunny winters and to escape their snowy season back home. Many come from Northern states like Washington and Minnesota and from Canada.

Lake Pleasant © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But what brings snowbirds to Arizona specifically? And once they’re here, what’s their economic impact on the state? According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, around 964,000 Canadian visitors were responsible for $1 billion of the $26.5 billion in tourism spending last year. This past September, visitors spent $752 million overall, but that’s down 60 percent from the $1.9 billion expected in a normal year.

Along the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall in Love with Arizona

Whether your relationship with Arizona is exciting and new or has stood the test of time, the new beginnings of spring are filled with endless outdoor recreation possibilities. Appreciation of fresh, new growth and exploring Arizona’s most beautiful places keeps your love of this gorgeous state alive. Come along with me as I fall in love with Arizona all over again by sharing some great places and activities to help you enjoy the outdoors right now or next month during spring break.

Golfing at La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona Spring Break 

Whether you’re in Arizona for a Cactus League Spring Training baseball game or a spring break getaway, I’m here for you with you great ideas about how to spend your time in the sun! And if you’re a snowbird, and you want to explore more of the state while the weather’s perfect, consider some of these fun road trip ideas.

Camping at La Paz County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s West Coast

Lake Havasu State Park is well known as a destination for spring breakers but there are three other state parks along the Colorado River that offer the same amazing boating, jet-skiing, fishing, beach-front relaxing, and springtime exploring. Just 25 minutes downriver from Lake Havasu, Cattail Cove has plenty of camping and RV spots, great hiking trails to satisfy your adventuresome side, and beautiful beaches. A bit south you will find Parker, home to Buckskin Mountain and River Island state parks. Nestled along the Colorado River 8 miles north of Parker, La Paz County Park facilities include 114 camping sites with utilities, riverfront ramadas with cabana, dry camping, tennis courts, beachfront walkway, golf course, playground, and softball fields. Jump on your jet-ski, paddleboard, or float tube, and bask under the Arizona sun.

Alamo Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Inland a bit, but still generally considered Western Arizona, Alamo Lake State Park sits nestled within the springtime glory of the Sonoran Desert. Here you’ll find the best bass and crappie fishing in the state, beautiful and spacious camping options, and miles upon miles of off-highway vehicle use opportunities. Situated comfortably in a remote location, this lake park offers unbeatable stargazing, and the peace and quiet that makes for a perfect relaxing spring break.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Country

Arizona visitors here to enjoy some spring training baseball or spring break getaway may want to set aside some time to check out Arizona’s Red Rock Country. There are five state parks in the Sedona area and one of them offers campsites and cabins so you can extend your stay and make the park your home.

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

Dead Horse Ranch State Park is located in Cottonwood. This spacious park has three lagoons, tall cottonwood trees, and the lush Verde River Valley within easy reach. Bring your kayak or canoe, and settle in to your camp spot before exploring the other nearby parks.

Next, hop in the car and head to Fort Verde State Historic Park for a tour of the best-preserved fort in the state from the Indian Wars period. This historic destination showcases Buffalo Soldiers, officer’s quarters, and doctor and surgeon areas. Plus, enjoy sweeping views of Camp Verde.

Red Rock State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To truly experience the famous rusty hues of Sedona take a drive to Red Rock and Slide Rock state parks. Enjoy a stroll through Oak Creek Canyon at Slide Rock and take a dip in the cool mountain stream before venturing south again and hitting the trails at Red Rock State Park.

Jerome State Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After your tour of the Sedona area, spend about 40 minutes driving to the quaint little artist town of Jerome. Before heading up the hill to eat, stroll through galleries or shop your way through Jerome’s scenic streets, stop in at Jerome State Historic Park housed in the Douglas Mansion. This museum is a trip back in time to Jerome’s mining-town past with exhibits and examples of life in the early 1900s.

Montezuma Castle National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover Montezuma Castle National Monument, a historic five-story Native American dwelling carved out of an ancient limestone cliff with twenty rooms. Begun during the twelfth century, it took about three centuries to complete. Explore the museum and wander the trails through a picturesque sycamore grove at the base of towering limestone cliffs. Afterwards, have lunch in the picnic area along the shore of Beaver Creek.

Tuzigoot National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the legacy of ancient peoples in a desert hilltop pueblo. Starting in A.D. 1000, the Sinagua built the 110-room Tuzigoot pueblo including second and third story structures. The tribe was largely agricultural and had trade routes that spanned hundreds of miles. A self-guided, 1/3-mile loop trail traces through the pueblo. The hilltop view offers expansive scenery of the Verde River and Tavasci Marsh.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona’s Desert Corridor

After decent fall and winter precipitation the southern parks should be awash in amazing wildflower blooms. Even during years without sufficient rainfall these parks still give off gorgeous spring views and laid back desert vibes. Springtime weather is great for hiking and the vibrant spring sights and mild temps just can’t be beat. Stick close to Phoenix at Lost Dutchman State Park in Apache Junction, your key to exploring the famed Superstition Mountains. Enjoy some desert camping or stay in one of the new cabins. Hike trails like the moderate Treasure Loop or summon up your determination and hike the more difficult Siphon Draw to Flat Iron. 

Cave Creek, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, bird watching, picnicking, and camping. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 12 parks in Maricopa County which ring around the Phoenix metro area. 

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

Step into the mysteries of history. At the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument, you’ll find the Ancient Sonoran Desert People’s farming community including the preserved “Great House,” or “Casa Grande.” An estimation of dating puts the origins of this structure around 1350 and the abandonment thereof about a century later in 1450.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Picacho Peak State Park, 90 minutes south of Phoenix and just 30 minutes north of Tucson, is a great place to stop on your Sonoran Desert adventure. Picacho Peak’s campgrounds make a great home base within view of the iconic peak and plenty of hiking opportunities stretching across the vast desert landscapes.

Catalina State Paek © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just 30 minutes southeast of Picacho in Tucson you’ll find Catalina State Park, an incredible experience at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Catalina’s trails will lead you to beautiful creeks and waterfalls you never thought you could experience in the arid Sonoran Desert. Or set up your campsite here and call this park home for the week with easy access to new adventures.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The saguaro-draped foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains north of Tucson harbor countless scenic ravines but two of the prettiest are Sabino Canyon and Bear Canyon, ten miles northeast of the city center. Both feature a stream that forms seasonal pools and waterfalls, steep-sided slopes bearing many cacti and other Sonoran Desert plants, with rocky peaks rising high above.

Patagonia Lake State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Southern Arizona

Look no further than Patagonia Lake State Park as a hub for your southern Arizona spring break adventures. This hidden gem boasts a gorgeous lake with boat-in campsites, white sand beach, and awesome fishing. The RV and tent sites provide quick access to the swimming area and opportunities for birding, hiking, and exploring. This fantastic destination is within reach of several southern Arizona parks, like Tombstone Courthouse, Tubac Presidio, and adjacent Sonoita Creek Natural Area.

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wilcox, a southeastern Arizona town attracts visitors who come for its wineries and tasting rooms, to hike in Chiricahua National Monument, and to see the sandhill cranes. The majestic birds winter in the Sulphur Springs area. Thousands of cranes roost in Whitewater Draw Wildlife Area, a shallow lake that is a flurry activity at sunup and sundown when birds depart and return in a swirling cloud of feathers.

Organ Pipe National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, located on the border with Mexico, the star is obviously the organ pipe cactus. Saguaro and cholla cactus, palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape. The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the monument. Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Where It All Began: My Love Affair with the Southwest

Usery Mountain Regional Park is a staggeringly beautiful place. It’s as “Arizona” as it gets.

The Spanish found the desert to be very inhospitable. On their maps, central Arizona was labeled as “deplobado” meaning, “desolate wilderness.” My initial reaction was not that different!

Usery Mountain is where my love of and discovery of The Southwest began. That would be early April 1987 when we spent a week in site 48.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At that time, I wrote in my journal: “The spectacular desert mountain scenery here is breathtaking. When we first arrived in Arizona our reaction was why would anyone winter in this dreary, harsh, unforgiving desert environment, let alone live here. The Sonoran Desert grows on you with a beauty all its own. And the beauty of Usery Mountain is absolutely stunning.”

And we have enjoyed camping here numerous times since.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on the Valley’s east side, this 3,648-acre park became part of Maricopa County’s regional park system in 1961. The park is set at the western end of the Goldfield Mountains, adjacent to the Tonto National Forest. The park contains a large variety of plants and animals that call the lower Sonoran Desert home. Along the most popular features of the park, the Wind Cave Trail, water seeps from the roof of the alcove to support hanging gardens of Rock Daisy. The Wind Cave is formed at the boundary between the volcanic tuff and granite on Pass Mountain. Breathtaking views from this 2,840-foot elevation are offered to all visitors.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain History

The traditional account of settlement of the Salt River Valley credits a former Confederate Officer and gold seeker, Jack Swilling, with the beginning of the modern irrigation in central Arizona. Swilling came into the Valley in 1867 and noted the presence of ancient canal systems of the early Native Americans who had irrigated the same lands.

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

If Swilling traveled between John Y.T. Smith’s hay camp a few miles east of downtown Phoenix and Fort McDowell, as he presumably did in the summer of 1867, he came within sight of Usery Mountain Park and even closer to the ruins of an old canal system and an ancient Native American village situated between the park and the Salt River. The first Swilling canal brought water to fields east of the present Arizona State Hospital near Phoenix and inspired the beginning of other canal building.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park became a park in 1967. Pass Mountain, also known as “Scarface” to the local folks, is the geological focal point of the park. The mountain itself was named for King Usery (sometimes spelled Ussery). “King” was his first name, rather than a title. He was a cattleman who was running stock in the area in the late 1870s and early 1880s. He had a tough struggle to survive and, apparently losing ground, moved up into the Tonto Basin country where his activities, unorthodox, provided him a kind of unwanted security…behind bars.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On January 5, 1892, the Globe-Florence stage was held up by two highwaymen and two bars of silver bullion valued at $2,000 were stolen. The driver identified the highwaymen as King Usery and Henry Blevins. Posses took the field, soon learning that Usery had been riding a black horse stolen from the Webb Ranch on Tonto Creek. At the George Middleton Ranch, the sheriff and his deputies were told that Usery had been seen burying something in swampy ground near the Salt River. One of the bars was quickly recovered. Surrounded at his ranch, Usery surrendered but a search revealed he had hidden two pistols inside his pants legs, suspending them from his belt with rawhide thongs. For this crime, Usery was sentenced to a term of seven years in the Territorial Prison in Yuma. Despite a successful plea for a new trial, the conviction stood. After two years, he was pardoned.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery wandered from the legal path a second time and was convicted of stealing cattle. He received a light sentence in Gila County and upon his release, he disappeared.

Usery Mountain Park is on the border of a mountain region. Nearby ranges are the Superstitions on the east, the Goldfields on the north and northeast, the Usery Mountains immediately northwest, and the McDowell Mountains across the Salt River to the northwest. A broad basin lies west and south of the area.

Hedgehog cactus in bloom at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Pass was also known for being a major sheep trail leading from the high country north of Mt. Baldy south to the Salt River Valley. Flocks of sheep, led by Mexican and Basque shepherds with their dogs, presented a picturesque sight in the spring and fall as they moved into or out of the Coconino plateau region.​

Hiking at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Hiking Trails

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers over 29 miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, and horseback riding. Park trails range in length from 0.2 miles to over 7 miles and range in difficulty from easy to difficult. If you are looking for an easy, relatively short hike, the Merkle Trail is barrier-free. If you are looking for a long more difficult hike, try the 7.1-mile Pass Mountain Trail. Another visitor favorite is the Wind Cave Trail that reaches high onto the mountain side and allows hikers onto the adjacent Tonto National Forest.

Guilded flicker at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The trails within the Usery Mountain Regional Park are very popular because they have enough elevation to offer spectacular vistas of surrounding plains. All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette. Always remember to carry plenty of water and let someone know where you are going.​ Heavy sole shoes are a must as well as sunscreen and a large-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley hat).

Sunset at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

​Usery Mountain Picnic Areas

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a Day-Use Picnic Area and a Group Picnic Area. The Day Use Picnic Area provides a table, barbecue grill, drinking water, and restrooms for each site. These sites are available on a first-come, first-served basis. For large groups wanting to picnic together, weddings, or office parties, consider renting a ramada area. Usery Mountain has two group areas that offer two large ramadas with picnic tables and patio, barbecue grills, drinking water, electrical outlets, campfire pits, flood lights, and a nearby playground.

Camping at Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping at Usery Mountain

Usery Mountain Regional Park offers a campground with 73 individual sites. Each site has a large parking area to accommodate up to a 45 foot RV and offers water and electrical hook-ups, dump station, a picnic table, barbecue grill, and fire ring. Usery Mountain provides restrooms with flush toilets and hot water showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online at maricopacountyparks.org.

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usery Mountain Regional Park

From central Phoenix, take I-10 east to US 60 east. Exit Ellsworth Road north to the Usery Mountain Regional Park entrance.

Admission: $7 per vehicle.

Usery Mountain Regional Park in spring © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

—Dorothy B. Hughes

A Dozen Amazing Spots to Visit with your RV during Winter

Winter wander lands

For RVers, the colder months provide opportunities to make the most of having a hotel on wheels. Make tracks in the snow to spots blanketed in white, follow fellow snowbirds to warmer shores, or simply enjoy the peace and quiet in places that are usually packed all summer long. Here are the best places to visit in your trailer, camper van, or motorhome during the winter. Be sure to check state travel advisories before you set out and please note that some sites may require advance booking.

White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

The curving, dipping dunes of White Sands look snowier than your average ski resort and you can even sled down them. But, with daytime winter temperatures averaging 60 degrees it doesn’t feel that way until the sun dips down and it’s chilly enough for a campfire. There’s no RV camping in the park but there are several spots nearby from basic dry camping at Holloman Lake near the dunes to Alamogordo and Las Cruces where sites have full hook-ups and fenced-in patios.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

What could possibly be more bizarrely beautiful than the teetering, towering hoodoo rock formations that rise like totems throughout Bryce Canyon National Park? Those same hoodoos speckled with bright white snow, that’s what. Misty mornings and pink skies make winter landscapes stunning. Several national park campsites with RV sites stay open and there are ranger-led snowshoe hikes too.

Historic Downtown Yuma © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Yuma, Arizona

Prefer to give winter the cold shoulder? Make tracks for Yuma. The Sonoran Desert city can be unbearably hot in summer but its balmy winters are ideal. Yuma is the ideal city to visit for the winter season. Known as the Sunniest City on Earth, Yuma offers temperate winter weather, perfect for snowbirds to escape the snow and freezing temperatures up North. With sunny skies 91 percent of the year, Yuma is a premiere winter travel destination for those seeking a small town feel with big city amenities.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Temperatures can reach the high 60s here in winter which is much more pleasant than the often sweltering, throat-tightening summer heat. And the longer nights are a blessing in an area famed for its star-scattered dark skies. Snag a space at one of the designated camping areas like Jumbo Rocks and prepare to gaze upwards for hours. It can be chilly at night though that just means you can huddle around a campfire.

Padre Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Padre Island, Texas

The weather on Padre Island near Corpus Christi stays sunny and warm even in winter and your neighbors are more likely to be chilled-out snowbirds escaping the cold than rowdy spring break crowds looking for thrills. Nab a spot at one of several RV parks then revel in the fact you can still feel warm breezes, comb beaches for shells, and watch spectacular sunsets (without catching a chill) in January or February.

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs, California

Palm Springs is one of those places that look awfully good to an awful lot of people at this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card. In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred world-class golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV living.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

The king of canyons is best viewed in peace and solitude—something that’s hard to achieve in peak season. Brave the chill and take your RV here when the mercury drops, the crowds drift away and the undulating rock formations look even more incredible. You can also view elk and deer which are more active on cooler days. Only the South Rim stays open in winter with several RV sites available.

Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Nestled along the banks of the slow-rolling Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge, the “Crawfish Capital of the World,” is a gorgeous historic town with world-class restaurants and a thriving Cajun music and folk art scene. Breaux Bridge is a great place to stop off for a meal and an afternoon of antiquing and an even better place to camp at a local RV park and stay awhile. The bridge itself isn’t much to see (though you can’t miss it)—it’s a tall, slightly rusty metal drawbridge that spans the Teche (pronounced “tesh”). The downtown stretch of Bridge Street, though, is adorable. Antique shops, boutiques, art galleries, and restaurants span several blocks.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

This sprawling 600,000-acre state park between San Diego and Palm Springs has appeared in fewer movies than spotlight-hogging Joshua Tree National Park but manages equal levels of awe. While known for its trippy metal sculptures of dinosaurs and other strange creatures, the park has so much more to offer than a cool Instagram backdrop. Observe desert bighorn sheep, hike the Palm Canyon, and, when you get tired, head back to your camping site and revel in some of the country’s most mind-blowing stars in the night skies.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Slab City—an off-the-grid community that’s flush with eccentric desert art and even more eccentric characters—always makes for an interesting stopover. Be sure to check out man-made Salvation Mountain and wander the eerily beautiful Bombay Beach on the shores of the Salton Sea while you’re here.

Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf Shores, Alabama

Prefer snow-white sand to snow-white snow? Alabama’s Gulf Coast stays pretty mild and sunny all year-round making it a favorite spot for those escaping frigid winters and is now reopening after suffering damage during Hurricane Sally. There are those beaches, of course, and the area also has wetlands with trails, kayaking, and birdwatching. After a day of activities, wind down in one of the fun, quirky bars or seafood restaurants which serve the region’s prized Royal Red shrimp.

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Louisiana

Starting on the outskirts of Lake Charles and ending at the Lake Charles/Southwest Louisiana Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Creole Nature Trail All-American Road is a network of byways where you’ll find more than 400 bird species, alligators galore, and 26 miles of Gulf of Mexico beaches. Also called “America’s Outback,” the Creole Nature Trail takes visitors through 180 miles of southwest Louisiana’s backroads. You’ll pass through small fishing villages, National Wildlife Refuges to reach the little-visited, remote Holly and Cameron beaches. Take a side trip down to Sabine Lake, or drive onto a ferry that takes visitors across Calcasieu Pass. Throughout the trip, expect to see exotic birds; this area is part of the migratory Mississippi Flyway. 

Ajo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ajo, Arizona

With its rich tradition as a former copper mining hub, Ajo is a casual town with relaxed charm. Enjoy its mild climate, low humidity, and clear skies. Take in the historic Spanish Colonial Revival architecture in the Downtown Historic District, Sonoran Desert flora and fauna, and panoramic views. Ajo is surrounded by 12 million acres of public and tribal land waiting to be explored. Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument and Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge offer expansive hiking, camping, and birding places.

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

Canadian Snowbirds Change Migration Patterns

Pandemic changes migration patterns of Canadians who head south for the sun

Canadians who travel south have changed their migration pattern dramatically this winter. In a normal year, more than one million Canadians head south to the U.S. Sunbelt states. The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped their wings and forced most to stay in Canada this winter.

Penticton and Skaha Lake in the South Okanagan © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of those who are traveling, most are driving west to RV parks and campgrounds in British Columbia—the South Okanagan, Lower Mainland, and Vancouver Island. There is no place in Canada from the East Coast all the way to this area that doesn’t have winter. So, there’s no escape until you come here. These three regions in British Columbia appear to be the perfect destinations for snowbirds who want to forget about the snow and the worst of the freezing cold.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

British Columbia is the place to be in Canada during the winter. Whether snowbirds look at minimum and maximum temperatures or number of snow days these three areas are the best option. Plus, with fewer than five days with snowfall, whichever BC region that snowbirds choose will allow them to escape the worst of the weather conditions they dread the most: snow, wind, and frigid winter days.

Fortunately, Canadian snowbirds can still make the most of a bad situation. Although replicating the conditions of a Texan winter in Canada is not possible, spending the tougher months in balmier climate within the country’s borders is for many.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the Canadian Camping and RV Council at least 50,000 full-time users of recreational vehicles who usually spend their winters in the US Sunbelt had to find a site north of the border. Thousands of those snowbirds have converged on southern BC, packing full-service campgrounds to wait out the winter, say tourism and lodging groups in the province.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to the B.C. Lodging and Campgrounds Association, about 100 private-sector campgrounds are open year-round most of them in southern BC. Full-time RVers have been wintering here for years. The difference this year is snowbirds have nowhere else to go. By mid-July, numerous RV parks reported 100 people on their winter wait-list. They’re from everywhere in the country that’s cold.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a small island in British Columbia’s Fraser River is a campground packed with Canadian snowbirds who found refuge when the border with the United States was shut. Unlike other years, all 118 full-service sites at Fort Camping in Langley are occupied.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It started in March, when Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Canadians around the world to come home. Taking no chance on the border reopening, many booked Fort Camping for the winter. They sensed that they would to be in deep trouble come winter with the border closed and nowhere to go. At Fort Camping most have satellite TV and whatever they need nearby and numerous walking paths and hiking trails. They have wonderful internet service here.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Canadian Snowbird Association says Florida is the most popular winter destination for Canadians who routinely head south for the season with around half a million of them visiting the state in a normal year. They estimate around 3.5 million Canadians including non-snowbirds visit the state each year and spend around $6.5 billion. The second most popular destination is Arizona. According to the Arizona Office of Tourism, around 964,000 Canadian visitors were responsible for $1 billion of the $26.5 billion in tourism spending last year. This past September, visitors spent $752 million overall, but that’s down 60 percent from the $1.9 billion expected in a normal year.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was prime parka weather in northern Alberta on Friday morning—a crisp -35 Celsius (-17 Fahrenheit) degrees which reminded me that I had planned to spend time in southern Arizona this winter. I could start my day with a hike at Catalina State Park, revel in the dry heat, and hang out with all my cacti friends. 

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the first winter in 20+ years that we haven’t driven our RV to the US Sunbelt—California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. But not this year! It’s a lifestyle as opposed to vacationing for two weeks. If you told me a year ago that I would spend the winter of 2020-21 in the Great White North, I’d surely wonder which one of us was crazier.

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I look at the positives—it could be a lot worse. We’ve got a nice warm home-on-wheels, we’ve got pleasant neighbors, we’re in a beautiful area of the country, and spring comes early. Would I like to be down south, oh you bet!

And, while these alternative destinations within the country’s borders might not be as sunny as their usual winter destinations, these regions in British Columbia could be the ideal solution for snowbirds in a less-than-ideal year.

On a hopeful note, the one-year absence has not diminished Canadian snowbirds’ enthusiasm for their winter homes. We’ll be back next winter. I certainly hope so!

Fort Camping, Fort Langley, British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Together again someday

“We’ll Meet Again” was a popular song—and saying—during World War II among Americans and Canadians alike. Then, both countries were united against one enemy, just like during this pandemic. So expect friendly border crossings again. The border will open…

Just pack your toque—that’s Canuck for beanie—eh?

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Ultimate Collection of National Parks Perfect for Snowbirds

Allergic to snow, ice, and sub-freezing temperatures?

Escape to a national park that offers sweeping panoramas, hiking trails, and wildlife sightings along with warm temperatures and lots to do and explore. These destinations do not require you to worry about frostbite or snow.

Looking for a new hiking or backpacking adventure? Big Bend, Joshua Tree, and Saguaro national parks can be great destinations. Padre Island National Seashores is a great spot to plant your beach chair and read a good book while the waves wash ashore. What follows is the ultimate list of national parks for RVing snowbirds.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Great for: Backpacking, birding, hiking, night skies

Deep in West Texas on the border with Mexico, Big Bend is far off the beaten path but the rewards make the effort worthwhile. The winter months are best to visit to avoid the searing heat of summer. It is the prime backpacking season and for those seeking to push themselves, the park’s Outer Mountain Loop awaits. If you don’t have desert backpacking experience, try an overnight from the Homer Wilson Ranch or in the high country of the Chisos Mountains. Either, or both, will give you a good sample of the Outer Loop experience. Big Bend is an International Dark Sky Park with impressive night skies.

Big Thicket National Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Thicket National Preserve, Texas

Great for: Birding, paddling, backcountry camping

Located about two hours from Houston, the preserve has no developed campgrounds and no entrance stations; only a few short roads—most of them unpaved—even extend into the park. As a result the best way to enjoy the Big Thicket is on foot or via the water but it’s easy to explore via short walks or float trips. There are creeks, bayous, and rivers that combined offer more than 300 miles to explore by canoe or kayak at Big Thicket which boasts three official Texas Paddling Trails that range from 5 to 21 miles in length. When you’re out paddling, don’t forget your binoculars to help with identifying birds in the preserve.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Great for: Kayaking/canoeing, birding

There are crown jewels in the National Park System, and then there are the overlooked parks. Congaree is one of the latter. What can you say about a place that’s an International Biosphere Reserve, a Globally Important Bird Area, a National Natural Landmark, a federally designated Wilderness Area, and an Outstanding National Resource Waters designee? Located in the middle of South Carolina, just a half-hour’s drive from the capital city of Columbia, Congaree preserves the largest remaining old-growth bottomland forest. Although this nearly 27,000-acre park has around 600 acres of piney uplands including about 200 acres of valuable longleaf pine habitat, its ecological centerpiece is a virtually pristine 12,000-acre tract of floodplain forest. The bottomlands of the Congaree Swamp are mantled with bald cypress, tupelo, laurel oak, sweet gum, water hickory, loblolly pine, and other trees inclined to grow to unusually large size.

Cumberland Island National Seashore © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Great for: Birding, beach combing, history, hiking

Cumberland Island National Seashore embraces a pastoral coastal setting on Georgia’s longest barrier island. It’s a place rich in human history, features settings attractive to both birdlife and loggerhead sea turtles, embraces dense maritime forests and salt marshes, and claims nearly 10,000 acres of officially designated wilderness. One of America’s most beautiful Atlantic beaches often rewards strollers with sand dollars and shells. Visits to the northern portion of the island offer visitors the opportunity of stepping inside the intimate First African American Church where on a September day in 1996 John Kennedy, Jr. married Carolyn Bessette. Cumberland Island is a world away from what most have experienced in America’s more popular national parks.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Great for: Bouldering, birding, desert botany, hiking, camping, history of ranchers and miners

If you’re fascinated by desert botany, an avid birder, enjoy bouldering, or want to learn a bit about those who tried to tame the rugged desert landscape of Southern California, Joshua Tree meets the bill. It can be magical and astonishing, intriguing and interesting, but the landscape also doesn’t suffer those who come unprepared. There are 800,000 acres to explore in Joshua Tree and much of it is wilderness. It’s the place where the Sonoran Desert meets the Mojave Desert, a place where slight differences in elevation make huge differences in moisture and plant life. Desert sunsets always seem to be amazing. Joshua trees of many sizes and grotesque shapes silhouette themselves against colorful sky. And, as the sun drops into the horizon, temperature drop too.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sagauro National Park, Arizona

Great for: Hiking, birding, Sonoran Desert botany

Despite its arid appearance, Saguaro boasts a rich and diverse landscape. Its namesake cacti aren’t the only desert dwellers in the park. There also are prickly pear, barrel, octillo, mesquite, and cholla. Wildlife includes jackrabbits, coyotes, bobcats, coatimundi, Gila monsters, black bears, and javelina. Winter months in the park are decidedly more comfortable, temperature-wise, than July and August. The milder temperatures encourage exploration of the park on foot. Though the park is less than 100,000 acres in size, split in two districts (Rincon Mountain District and Tuscon Mountin District), you can find solitude by heading out early in the morning or late in the afternoon to catch the evening sunset.

Worth Pondering…

The national parks in the U.S. are destinations unto themselves with recreation, activities, history, and culture.

—Jimmy Im

Top 10 States with the Best Winter Weather

Here are 10 states that will make your winter warmer

It’s winter! Welcome to the season when conversations center around the weather and how unbelievably cold and miserable it is outside.In most of America, winter sucks. It is cold out. Pipes freeze. Lips, noses, and cheeks get chapped and raw. Black ice kills. It’s horrible.Growing up in Alberta, I have experienced the personal hell that is winter’s awkwardly long, frigid embrace. That’s why I’m a snowbird.

No. 10 is a state that might not come to mind when thinking of a safe haven from cold temperatures.

Golfing in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

10. Utah

Below the rim of the Great Basin sits Utah‘s warm-weather retreat, the town of St. George. And there’s good reason they call this area Utah Dixie. Like New Mexico and Nevada, you can generally count on the fact that winters will be packed with sunshine. 

Main Street Downtown Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

9. New Mexico

Did you know that New Mexico is basically southeastern Arizona? I mean, in the sense of topography. They both have high plains, mountain ranges, deserts, and basins.

Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Nevada

Other than in the northern reaches of the state, Nevada’s generally pretty well protected from the worst aspects of winter.

Bay St. Louis, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Mississippi

While North Mississippi can get hit with a little blizzard action (snow tornadoes!) it’s far from the norm. And even when a cold snap does hit, people are generally back to porch-sittin’, sweet tea-sippin’ weather in no time. There are also 26 miles of pristine water and white sand beaches in Mississippi without anywhere near the number of tourists or tacky T-shirt shops you’d find in Florida. And, unlike the other beach towns on the Gulf, Biloxi and Gulfport have casinos. And don’t overlook funky Bay St. Louis. Overall, Mississippi is a state with reasonably painless winters.

Alligator in southern Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6. Louisiana

You think they’d have Mardi Gras in February if that wasn’t an ideal time for a party?!?!! Wait—what do you mean “it’s set by the church calendar to always fall the day before Ash Wednesday?” Well, you think they would’ve petitioned the pope for a change by now if that humid subtropical climate didn’t laissez les bon temps rouler?!?  Yeah, I have no idea either, I guess. 

If I could eat in only three states for the rest of my life, Louisiana would be in this select group.

Boudin at Don’s Specialty Meats in Scott, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More to the point, y’all know the high regard to which I hold the food culture of Cajun Country and the rest of Louisiana (thank you for Tabasco, po’ boys, gumbo, crawfish, jambalaya, boudin, and crackling) and nature abounds.

Alabama Gulf Coast near Gulf Shores © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

5. Alabama

The people of Alabama asked the Lord that He make the climate of Alabama suitable to play football outside year-round and He listened to the people and granted them a mild winter climate for which to play His game. Except up in Huntsville. While mostly known for college football and slow cooked ribs, Alabama is actually geographically diverse with the rolling foothills of the Smoky Mountains in the North, open plains in the center, and the Gulf Coast’s sandy shores in the south. This makes Alabama an excellent destination for RVers.

Corpus Christi Bay, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Texas

According to a quick eyeballing of the globe, Texas is roughly the size of South America or something, and you can’t speak on the weather in Brazil like it’s the same as Chile, right? West Texas is mostly arid desert and you can get the occasional blizzard that shuts down Amarillo. East Texas is subtropical and humid even in the winter. At a spot where the U.S.-Mexico border and the Gulf of Mexico meet sits Brownsville. Warm winds blowing off the sea on 70-degree days make for an ideal scene in the wintertime especially if you’re dealing with stiff, frigid winds blowing feet of snow against the front door back home. With all that said, outside of the Northern Plains, the average temps in Texas in the winter usually stay in the mid-60s during the day, and that’s pretty darn nice.

Lovers Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

3. Florida

It goes without saying that the warm weather is a major draw to Florida in December, January, and February. Look out the window… if it’s anything other than sunny and 75 degrees, you probably wish you were in South Florida right now. Just think—you could go from freezing in the cold to boating, golfing, or laying out in the sun. And Key West is the furthest from depressing Northern winter you can get in the Lower 48.

Near Desert Hot Springs in the Coachella Valley, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

2. California

Yes, California has issues and does a lot of things wrong. Lots of ’em. Let’s talk for a minute about how this state has every single kind of scenic beauty you could possibly want. Start in the south with the expansive, natural beaches set against towering cliffs. Then move inland to the moon-like desertcapes in the Mojave and Joshua Tree. Then it’s a short drive to Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, and the other desert cities of Coachella Valley where the winter weather is near perfect.

Usery Mountain Regional Park near Mesa, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

1. Arizona

Ah, Arizona. Occasionally, retired executives from the northeast will accidentally move to Flagstaff and get very sad and angry when they realize the average winter temperature is somewhere in the 20s. But most of Arizona offers up that dry desert day heat (it was 75 in Phoenix last week) that is good for arthritis. Arizona is a warm-weather perch for snowbirds from around North America and one of the most popular getaway destinations in the Southwest.

Organ Pipe National Monument, Arizona

Home to cactus, prickly pears, rattlesnakes, the Grand Canyon, roadrunners, the world’s oldest rodeo, and the bolo tie, the state is rich in attractions that entertain the young and the not-so-young. From eroded red rock formations to large urban centers, from the Grand Canyon’s stunning vistas to small mountain towns, from Old West legends to Native American and Mexican culture, and from professional sporting events to world-class golf—Arizona has it all!

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Snowbirding in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert

The Sonoran Desert offers an impressive array of colorful flora and fauna, scenic drives, and outdoor recreation—all a stone’s throw from the urban sprawl of Phoenix

The central Arizona region of the Sonoran Desert is a lush landscape full of exotic vegetation, unusual wildlife, colorful wildflowers, and even a few rivers and lakes. Best of all, this natural beauty is very accessible for RVers staying within the Valley of the Sun. It is no wonder that snowbirds flock to Arizona every winter to escape the northern blizzards and enjoy the wonders of the desert.

Phoenix is the sixth largest city in America, and it sits on a massive, flat expanse of land that is dotted with ancient volcanic mountain peaks jutting up from the desert floor. Many of these areas have been set aside as recreation areas for the public and there are extensive hiking, biking, and horseback-riding trail systems in every direction from the heart of the city.

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For decades, Phoenicians have taken to the outdoors on the popular trails at South Mountain, Camelback Mountain, Papago Park, and at the Maricopa County Regional Parks. These trails are wonderful places to commune with cactus wrens, cottontail rabbits, and the many species of cactus, especially the saguaro cactus that stand tall with their arms raised skyward.

Usery Mountain, A Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wintering in the area these urban trails make for an ideal excursion but the real treasures of the Sonoran Desert are but a short drive and just a few miles farther east of the metro area. Many snowbirds use Mesa or Apache Junction as their home base for exploring the wild side of Arizona’s deserts and spend many a happy day discovering the gems of the Sonoran Desert that lay just beyond their RV site.

Along Bush Highway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A favorite day trip is a drive along the Bush Highway which winds between state routes 87 and 202 northeast of Phoenix. This stunningly scenic drive follows the scenic Salt River through some of the most eye-popping landscapes in central Arizona. Although this state isn’t known for having four real seasons when autumn arrives in late November and December, the whole area erupts in vivid fall colors and nowhere are they more vibrant than along the Salt River.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A little farther east on the Bush Highway is an entirely different habitat where the Salt River was dammed to form lovely Saguaro Lake. With a marina at one end of the lake, the boating community is very active on weekends with locals in their small power and sailboats.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tourists can enjoy the water aboard the Desert Belle, a double-decker boat that gives guided tours down the long, skinny lake into the canyons where the desert hillsides rise up from the shore. What an ideal place to take a selfie to send to friends back home who are shoveling snow!

McDowell Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers who wish to immerse themselves in the beauty of the Sonoran Desert, there are four outstanding public campgrounds with paved loops, sites large enough for big rigs and electric and water hookups: McDowell Mountain Regional Park, Usery Mountain Regional Park, White Tank Mountains Regional Park, and Lost Dutchman State Park. Each has an RV dump station to empty the holding tanks at the end of your stay.

The beauty of staying in one of these parks is that there are great hiking trails and gorgeous Sonoran Desert scenery right outside your door. These are all popular spots for RVers during the winter months, and advanced reservations are highly recommended.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in Apache Junction, Lost Dutchman State Park marks the beginning of the incomparable Apache Trail (State Route 88), a scenic drive that goes through some of the most pristine and awe-inspiring Sonoran Desert terrain in the state. You’ll need to leave your RV at the campground and take your toad on this route. A significant portion of Apache Trail is unimproved though the first 20 miles of the byway is paved and winds between hills and valleys filled with saguaro, prickly pear, and cholla cactus. After passing the vivid blue waters of Canyon Lake, you’ll encounter the little town of Tortilla Flat, population 6. Shortly after leaving town, the road turns to gravel for the next 20 miles and continues its weaving path through exquisite desert landscapes and passes a breathtaking viewpoint high up on a plateau.

If the word “desert” has always evoked images of camels and vast sand dunes for you, take your RV to the Sonoran Desert in central Arizona and discover the color and vitality of this unique place.

Lost Dutchman State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever.

Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

Early symptoms include a burning desire to make plans for the next trip “south”.

There is no apparent cure for snowbirds.

Parks That Snowbirds Should Explore This Winter

The best parks for snowbirds to explore this winter

While the most familiar of America’s parks are the national parks and state parks, America’s parks operate under a variety of names including county parks, regional parks, metro parks, natural areas, national forests, national grasslands, national wildlife refuges, landmarks, monuments, historic sites, geologic sites, recreation trails, memorial sites, preserves, scenic rivers, and wildlife areas.

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

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

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park in Arizona

The giant Saguaro cactus is the most distinct feature is this park that straddles the city of Tucson. The park, created to preserve the cacti, boasts some great hikes. Driving Saguaro will take you through a Western landscape that’s unmistakably Arizona.

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

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park in California

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

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park in South Carolina

Preserving the largest tract of old-growth bottomland hardwood forest remaining in the U.S., Congaree National Park is an International Biosphere Reserve. Visitors can explore the natural wonderland by canoe, kayak, or on hiking trails and the Boardwalk Loop Trail.

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

Catalina State Park in Arizona

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

Gulf State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gulf State Park in Alabama

Gulf State Park’s two miles of beaches greet you with plenty of white sun-kissed sand, surging surf, seagulls and sea shells, but there is more than sand and surf to sink your toes into. Visits here can be as active or as relaxing as you like. Try exhilarating water sports, go fishing, learn about coastal creatures at the nature center or simply sprawl out on the sands.

Anza-Borrego State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Anza-Borrego State Park in California

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is the largest state park in California. Five hundred miles of dirt roads, 12 wilderness areas, and many miles of hiking trails provide visitors with an unparalleled opportunity to experience the wonders of the Sonoran Desert.

Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Maricopa County Parks in Arizona

Maricopa County Parks offer hiking and biking trails, picnicking and camping, educational programs and guided hikes. Some parks also offer horseback riding, golf, boating, fishing, and archery. There are 11 parks in Maricopa County, which ring around the Phoenix metro area. 

Worth Pondering…

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

—Rachel Carson

Good for What Ages You: Palm Springs

Whether its golf, tennis, polo, taking the sun, shopping, or hiking, Palm Springs is a winter desert paradise

Palm Springs is one of those places that looks awfully good to an awful lot of people at this time of year. And the weather is not its only calling card. 

Palm Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Rancho Mirage, Indian Wells, Indio, and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley, you can camp for the winter in luxurious RV resorts that offer all sorts of amenities. Known for Olympic sized pools, tennis courts, and over one hundred world-class golf courses within 40 miles, this is truly upscale RV camping.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two weekly markets that are more than just shopping trips, they are events. On Thursday evenings, Palm Canyon Drive turns into Villagefest, a street fair with fragrant food stands, local and imported crafts, and tantalizing fresh produce. Live music accompanies you as you stroll past the many stalls.

Starting at 7:00 am, Saturday and Sunday mornings, the College of the Desert in Palm Desert hosts another street fair.

El Paseo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mile-long strip, El Paseo features locally owned boutiques; top international retailers such as St. John, Gucci, and Burberry; brilliant fun and fine jewelry; eclectic artworks; sleek and sophisticated home décor; and professional services including day spas, and interior design know-how. With so much to do and see, it’s easy to pass an entire day on El Paseo.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of the desert cities, Joshua Tree National Park protects two unique desert climates. In the eastern part of the park, the low altitude Colorado Desert features natural gardens of creosote bush, cactus, and other plants. The higher, moister, and cooler Mojave Desert is the home of the Joshua tree, a unique desert plant with beautiful white spring blossoms. A third type of environment can be seen at the six palm oases in the park, where water occurs naturally at the surface and creates a whole new ecosystem.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In addition to desert flora and fauna, the western part of Joshua Tree National Park includes some of the most interesting geologic displays found in California’s deserts. Hikers, climbers, mountain bikers, and owners of high-clearance vehicles can explore these craggy formations on a series of signed dirt roads that penetrate the park.

Nine campgrounds and three visitor centers are available for park visitors, as well as a number of well-marked short walks with informative signage.

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo, but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert. When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day. Cabot’s pueblo spreads an impressive 5,000 square feet, divided into 35 rooms and adorned with 150 windows and 65 doors. What a sight it is to see!

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While the structure’s architecture is a unique sight to behold, there’s more to see here than Cabot’s Hopi-style pueblo. Inside, the house has been turned into a museum with rooms filled with Indian artifacts, artwork, and memorabilia. One not to be missed artifact is Waokiye, a 43-foot sculpture of a Native American head.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from the desert cities. One of the area’s most beautiful attractions especially if you like to hike, the Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

Coachella Valley Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas fault, and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Desert Hot Springs © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Complete your journey by letting the Palm Springs Aerial Tram do the climbing, 6,000 feet of it. Along the way a wondrous panorama of the desert lands stretches below and beyond. From Mountain Station at the top, there are short nature hikes or longer trails of varying lengths. Be sure to bring a warm jacket as the temperature difference is dramatic at this elevation and snow is not uncommon.

Worth Pondering…

One of the things I had a hard time getting used to when I came to California in ’78 was Santa Claus in shorts.

—Dennis Franz