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.
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 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.
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, 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’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 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.
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.
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the things I had a hard time getting used to when I came to California in ’78 was Santa Claus in shorts.
If you’re planning on snowbird RVing this winter consider one of these state parks. They all offer warm weather and beautiful views of the Gulf or Technicolor deserts.
Many RVers prefer state park camping for the access to outdoor activities. Depending on the area, most state parks have all the amenities needed to stay comfortable such as hookups, bathhouses, a dump station, and laundry facilities.
If you are one of the many snowbirds heading south for the winter in an RV, you can find dozens of state parks open for year-round camping. These are 10 of our favorite spots for their great location, spacious RV sites, hookups, and other modern amenities.
Myakka River State Park, Florida
Myakka River State Park can be found north of Fort Myers with wetlands and forests surrounding the Myakka River. The campgrounds make a perfect home base while you go kayaking on the river, hiking the park’s trails, or exploring on one of their boat tours. The park has three campgrounds with 90 sites total, including Palmetto Ridge with full hookup gravel-based sites, and Old Prairie and Big Flats campgrounds with dirt-based sites.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park offers primitive campgrounds as well as developed campgrounds, including Borrego Palm Canyon Campground and Tamarisk Grove.
Borrego Palm Canyon has full hookup sites that can accommodate RVs and trailers up to 40 feet in length. The smaller Tamarisk Grove campground has 27 well shaded sites with no hookups but potable water and showers available. The state park is recognized as a Dark Sky Park with some of the darkest night skies for stargazing. It also has miles of great hiking trails with beautiful mountain, desert, and canyon views.
Meaher State Park, Alabama
This 1,327-acre park is situated in the wetlands of Mobile Bay and offers picnic facilities and modern camping sites with utilities. Meaher’s boat ramp and fishing pier will appeal to every fisherman. A self-guided walk on two nature trails includes a boardwalk with an up-close view of the beautiful Mobile Delta. Meaher’s campground has 61 RV campsites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp electrical connections as well as water and sewer hook-ups. The campground features a modern bathhouse with laundry facilities. Located near Meaher State Park is the Five Rivers Delta Resource Center; which features a natural history museum, live native wildlife, a theater, gift shop and canoe/kayak rentals.
Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina
Climb to the top of Hunting Island lighthouse to survey the palm-studded coastline. Bike the park’s trails through maritime forest to the nature center, fish off the pier, and go birdwatching for herons, egrets, skimmers, oystercatchers, and wood storks. Camping is available at 100 campsites with water and electrical hookups, shower and restroom facilities, beach walkways, and a playground. Camping reservations must be made for a minimum of two nights.
Elephant Butte Lake State Park, New Mexico
In Southern New Mexico, Elephant Butte Lake State Park sits on a large reservoir along the Rio Grande River just north of the town Truth or Consequences. State park camping is available at Lions Beach Campground along with a variety of activities on the lake such as boating, fishing, kayaking, and jetskiing. The campground has 173 sites including some with full hookups, as well as primitive beach and boat-in camping. There are also 15 miles of hiking trails, boating facilities, and picnic tables available for day-use.
Note: The park is currently open to New Mexico residents only. Reservations are required for camping and can be made online.
Galveston Island State Park, Texas
Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart! With both beach and bay sides, Galveston Island State Park offers activities for every coast lover. You can swim, fish, picnic, bird watch, hike, mountain bike, paddle, camp, geocache, study nature, or just relax! Visit their nature center to learn more about the park and its programs.
Patagonia Lake State Park, Arizona
Tucked away in the rolling hills of southeastern Arizona is a hidden treasure. Patagonia Lake State Park was established in 1975 as a state park and is an ideal place to find whitetail deer roaming the hills and great blue herons walking the shoreline. The park offers a campground, beach, picnic area with ramadas, tables and grills, a creek trail, boat ramps, and a marina. The campground overlooks the lake where anglers catch crappie, bass, bluegill, catfish, and trout. The park is popular for water skiing, fishing, camping, picnicking, and hiking.
Gulf State Park, Alabama
Gulf State Park is home to two miles of pristine white-sand beaches along the Coastal Connection Scenic Byway. Sink your toes into the fine, sugary sand, fish, bike, kayak, or canoe. Birding, hiking, and biking are other popular activities. The park also offers a Segway tour. Even if you’ve never ridden one, the tour guides will keep you upright and make sure that you enjoy your experience. RV campsites, cottages, cabins, and lodges are available in the park if you decide to stay the night or longer.
Buccaneer State Park, Mississippi
Located on the beach in Waveland, Buccaneer is in a natural setting of large moss-draped oaks, marshlands, and the Gulf of Mexico. Buccaneer State Park offers Buccaneer Bay, a 4.5 acre waterpark, Pirate’s Alley Nature Trail, playground, Jackson’s Ridge Disc Golf, activity building, camp store, and Castaway Cove pool. Buccaneer State Park has 206 premium campsites with full amenities including sewer. In addition to the premium sites, Buccaneer has an additional 70 campsites that are set on a grassy field overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. These Gulf view sites only offer water and electricity, are open on a limited basis and are only available through the park office. A central dumping station and restrooms are located nearby. Castaway Cove (campground activity pool) is available to all visitors to the Park for a fee.
Catalina State Park, Arizona
Catalina State Park sits at the base of the majestic Santa Catalina Mountains. The park is a haven for desert plants and wildlife and nearly 5,000 saguaros. The 5,500 acres of foothills, canyons, and streams invites camping, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home. The park provides miles of equestrian, birding, hiking, and biking trails which wind through the park and into the Coronado National Forest at elevations near 3,000 feet.
The camping area offers 120 electric and water sites with a picnic table and BBQ grill. Amenities include modern flush restrooms with hot showers and RV dump stations. There is no limit on the length of RVs at this park
There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.
Americans tend to forget they have a third coastline. Sure, they’re aware the Gulf of Mexico has beaches but they tend to lump those in with Florida which then gets lumped in with the Atlantic coast. And the whole rest of the coast from Alabama to Texas gets criminally overlooked. The Gulf Coast is much more than the “Redneck Riviera”, a label it’s long since outgrown. This is a land of magical swamps, remote white-sand beaches, artists, musicians, and colorful characters. And it is the best coastal road trip few have taken.
Beginning at the end of Florida in Pensacola, driving west to the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain near New Orleans, you’ll skirt the turquoise waters of the gulf while dipping into lush marshlands and storybook small towns. You’ll discover a side of the south you never knew. Come along and see why the Gulf Coast truly is America’s most under-appreciated coastal road trip.
Although Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, and other areas took a major hit from Hurricane Sally, the area has begun to recover. Be sure to phone ahead for destination updates.
Flora-Bama (Florida-Alabama state line)
One of America’s top beach bars, The Flora-Bama Lounge is located uniquely on the Orange Beach, Alabama and Perdido Key, Florida line. About half an hour south of Pensacola this honky tonk has long been a landmark on its famous location. The Flora-Bama has five stages for live music and features bands of country, rock, dance, and beach music. Check back in during the annual interstate mullet toss in late April where competitors line up to see who can throw a fish the furthest across the state line.
Gulf State Park, Alabama
After responsibly enjoying the Flora-Bama head west on Perdido Beach Boulevard about 10 miles for the sweeping gulf views to Gulf State Park. Here you can immerse yourself in the sand dunes and Spanish moss that made Alabama’s beaches so beautiful before the condo boom. If you’ve got the gear, the park’s got plenty of RV, tent, and car camping sites. Or reserve one of the fully-furnished cabins that sit along Shelby Lakes. Take advantage of the park’s free bike-share program where you can hop on its 28 miles of trails and roll under live oaks then over a boardwalk to the area’s only stretch of sand not lined with condo towers. Nothing but sand dunes, pelicans, and the lapping waves to join you.
Shangri-La may be a fantasy, but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The city of Fairhope (population, 16,000), founded in 1894 by a society based on cooperative community ownership, was named for its members’ belief that their enterprise had a “fair hope” of success. Ever since, it has beckoned artists, writers, and other creatives, and today, it draws visitors searching for good food, great shopping, and a bit of outdoor adventure. Galleries and studios pepper downtown streets along the waterfront, alongside more than 80 antique shops, small boutiques, and locally owned restaurants. Visit once and you will be back.
Don’t be fooled by the beautiful skyline reflecting off the bay; Mobile is more than just incredibly good-looking. Mobile is more than 300 years old, and that fact alone ensures there must be a lot of history associated with a city of that age. The many museums and historical homes help tell Mobile’s story. Eight National Register Historic Districts make up what is known as downtown and midtown Mobile. Explore the mighty WWII battleship USS Alabama, winner of nine battle stars, and the submarine USS Drum. Both are National Historic Landmarks. Visit the Hank Aaron Childhood Home and Museum located at Hank Aaron Stadium.
Dauphin Island, Alabama
A narrow, 14-mile-long outdoor playground near the mouth of Mobile Bay, Dauphin Island provides a getaway atmosphere with attractions aimed at the family. The Dauphin Island Park and Campground is a great place to enjoy all the island has to offer. The 155-acre park offers an abundance of exceptional recreation offerings and natural beauty. The campground is uniquely positioned so that guests have access to a secluded beach, public boat launches, Fort Gaines, and Audubon Bird Sanctuary. The campground offers 150 sites with 30/50 amp- electric service and water; 99 sites also offer sewer connections.
Bay St. Louis, Mississippi
There’s St. Louis, and then there’s Bay St. Louis which dubs itself “a place apart.” Here, beach life collides with folk art. Catch the Arts Alive event in March when dozens of artists’ studios collide for a community-enriching arts festival that features local works, live music, theater, literature, and lots of food.
Breaux Bridge, Louisiana
Back in 1799, Acadian pioneer Firmin Breaux Breaux built a suspension footbridge across the Bayou Teche to help ease the passage for his family and neighbors. In 1817, Firmin’s son, Agricole, built the first vehicular bridge. Breaux Bridge and crawfish have become synonymous. Restaurants in Breaux Bridge were the first to offer crawfish on their menus and it was here that crawfish etouffee was created. Breaux Bridge became so well known for its crawfish farming and cooking that the Louisiana legislature officially designated Breaux Bridge as the crawfish capital of the world. Breaux Bridge hosts the annual crawfish festival, recognized as one of the state’s finest festival.
Avery Island, Louisiana
Lush subtropical flora and venerable live oaks draped with Spanish moss cover this geological oddity which is one of five “islands” rising above south Louisiana’s flat coastal marshes. The island occupies roughly 2,200 acres and sits atop a deposit of solid rock salt thought to be deeper than Mount Everest is high. Geologists believe this deposit is the remnant of a buried ancient seabed, pushed to the surface by the sheer weight of surrounding alluvial sediments. Today, Avery Island remains the home of the TABASCO brand pepper sauce factory as well as Jungle Gardens and its Bird City wildfowl refuge. The Tabasco factory and the gardens are open for tours.
Galveston Island, Texas
Galveston Island is home to some of the best attractions Texas has to offer including Moody Gardens, Schitterbahn Waterpark, the Historic Pleasure Pier, dazzling Victorian architecture, and 32 miles of sun-kissed beaches. Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge on Galveston Island. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!
Port Lavaca, Texas
Grab your fishing pole, sunscreen, and beach chair…it’s time to go to Port Lavaca. This coastal town has all the seaside fun you could ask for but without all the crowds found in other Gulf Coast locales. Checking out Port Lavaca’s beaches is a no brainer, regardless of whether you’re looking for a quiet barefoot stroll, hunt for shells, or kick back and relax. Start at Magnolia Beach, also known as the only natural shell beach on the Gulf Coast. Lay out a blanket and soak up the sun, or cast a line from the fishing pier. For more sandy beaches, relax in the shade of a thatch-covered cabana at Lighthouse Beach or swim or paddle board in the tranquil waters of Alamo Beach.
At the final stop on our coastal road trip you’ll discover why Rockport-Fulton is the Charm of the Texas Coast. You’ll find a sandy beach, a birder’s paradise, a thriving arts community, unique shopping, delectable seafood, unlimited outdoor recreation, and historical sites. The Coastal Bend’s natural resources and moderate climate remain the primary attraction for visitors to the Rockport-Fulton area. Be it sport fishing, bird-watching, water recreation, or simply relaxing in the shade of wind-sculpted live oaks life here still revolves around Aransas Bay.
Arizona is a land of endless beauty from desert to mountain peaks
It’s that time of year when we look back and ponder the year we leave behind. In 2020, that feels like a challenge. This has been a year of pandemic and interrupted travel. Lives have been disrupted. Stress levels seem to be at an all-time high. Yet ultimately none of the trials and tribulations of these past months alter one very significant fact.
It’s the old real estate mantra: location, location, location. This is a land of endless beauty and staggering diversity. That’s not something to be taken for granted. Here are some of the things I love about living the RV dream in Arizona.
Really, Arizona has it all
Jump in your RV or car in the morning and by afternoon you can…
Peer into the Grand Canyon. Kayak on a lake. Cruise down Historic Route 66. Walk across London Bridge. Tour a cave. Explore a ghost town. Search for wild horses along the Salt River. Hike among the red rocks of Sedona. Feed the burros that wander into Oatman. Watch a gunfight in Tombstone. Picnic in the desert. Ski down a mountainside. Sit on a sandy beach.
It’s just a matter of deciding which direction to drive and what clothes you need for that day. How many other states offer such a delicious range of options so easily accessible?
Hiking trails are practically at your RV site
Here’s a detail I just made up but I’m sure it’s true. Wherever you choose to RV in Arizona you’re within 15 minutes of a trailhead. For snowbirds like us who travel from city to small towns, national parks to state parks, and wildlife refuges to county parks, trails are even closer.
Abundance of open space and moderate winter temperatures pulls us outdoors where the scenery soothes us. This is where we can relax, refresh, and breathe a little deeper. Every minute spent hiking or biking on an Arizona trail is an investment in health and happiness.
Flowers bloom every month of the year
Such a small thing but such a wonderful thing!
Arizona is loaded with mountains
The Grand Canyon State is rugged and snowy and surprisingly vertical. Arizona has 3,928 mountain summits and peaks poking holes in its azure skies. There are 26 peaks that top out above 10,000 feet. That’s a lot of cool hiking opportunities in summer as well as winter.
Autumn brings a luxurious leafy display
Dead Horse Ranch is a beautiful state park for camping and hiking all year long. But something truly special happens starting in late October. The cottonwoods and willows that provide such welcome shade during summer turn golden. When it comes to fall colors, cottonwood trees are not as consistent as aspens, maples, and other showboats of the forest. Yet some years they are absolutely dazzling. It’s as if someone flipped a cosmic switch and the riparian corridor that lines the Verde River bursts into shimmering yellow hues.
I love all of Arizona’s rich and storied history. But some of my favorite tales are the small and odd ones. For example:
The longest poker game in history took place downstairs at the Birdcage Theatre in Tombstone. It started in 1881 and despite the $1,000 buy-in the action ran continuously for eight years, five months, and three days when the Birdcage closed. Plenty of famous names handled the cards during the marathon session including Bat Masterson, Diamond Jim Brady, Adolph Busch, George Randolph Hearst, and Doc Holliday.
Criminals in Wickenburg once were sentenced to sit outside in the shade. From 1868 to 1890, legend says Wickenburg scofflaws were chained to a mesquite tree that served as the town hoosegow.
Arizona has its own Bigfoot. The reclusive creature said to stand over 7 feet tall was first reported in a 1903 edition of the Arizona Republican in which I.W. Stevens said he encountered the hirsute humanoid near the Grand Canyon. He discovered it drinking the blood of two young cougars it had killed. Sightings continue and today it is known as the Mogollon Monster.
The open road calls to us
It’s hard to imagine a place more perfectly designed for road trips than Arizona. It’s a big state, the sixth largest in the US covering nearly 114,000 square miles. Most of the population centers are clustered in bunches leaving vast tracts of backcountry to explore. Arizona is sprinkled with just the right number of small towns to keep travelers gassed up and well fed.
There are 27 officially designated scenic and historic roads rambling across Arizona including five national scenic byways. They include classics like Apache Trail, Patagonia-Sonoita Scenic Road, Organ Pipe Cactus Parkway, Sedona-Oak Creek Canyon Scenic Road, Mount Lemmon Scenic Byway, and Coronado Trail National Scenic Byway.
Dare to be grape
There are more than 100 wineries producing some 22 varietals of wine in Arizona. Cheers!
Winter is here
That sounds ominous in a weird way! As those of us who live elsewhere know how bleak and soul-draining those dark and cold months can be. Not so in Arizona where much of winter is spent under a clear sky. During winter the sun is “candy-sweet” and most welcome to locals and snowbirds alike.
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.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park became California’s first desert park in 1933
Anza-Borrego was named for a Spanish explorer and an animal inhabitant. It was through Borrego Valley that Juan Bautista de Anza discovered the first land route to California. This happened five years after Father Junípero Serra had founded the first mission in San Diego.
In 1774 Anza led a party of explorers from Arizona south into Mexico and up along the Colorado River, then finally north across a dead sea into California and the Borrego Valley. Coyote Canyon, at the north end of the valley, provided a natural staircase over the mountains.
One of the park’s year-round residents is the desert bighorn sheep. The word “borrego” is Spanish for sheep.
The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego is flanked by rugged mountains on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites.
Lush oases with graceful palm trees lie hidden in valleys where water bubbles close to the surface. A multitude of birds shelter beneath the long frond skirts hanging from the palms, and a few rare desert bighorn sheep roam the rocky mountain slopes. Coyotes fill the night with their laughing song and mountain lions prowl the high country. Two-thirds of Anza-Borrego remain pristine wilderness.
Anza-Borrego’s historical roots run deep. Within the park’s boundaries are portions of the southern route to the California gold rush, the Butterfield Overland Mail Route, and the Southern Emigrant Trail.
Situated northeast of San Diego and south of the Palm Springs/Indio area, Anza-Borrego is easily accessible from anywhere in Southern California. Our journey took us south of Indio on State Highway 86 (which skirts the western shore of the Salton Sea) before we veered west on S22 (Borrego Salton Seaway) which dissects the park. A few miles down the road, we encountered thick stands of ocotillo.
A considerable diversity of terrain and vegetation awes the visitor. Eroded badlands sprawl at near sea-level elevation and piñon-juniper woodlands cover 6,000-foot-high mountains. The park is a fascinating nature reserve with over 1,000 species of plants amid a great diversity of terrain.
To reach the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park Visitor Center, drive northeast through the tiny town of Borrego Springs. When you first approach the visitor center you may not see anything except the sign, but look closely. The center is built into the earth—be a desert ground squirrel and burrow deeply into the attractive chambers for a bounty of desert touring information. Exhibits include a film of an actual earthquake experience as it occurred in the desert here, live pupfish, desert stones to touch, and temperature gauges.
Flora, fauna, and wildlife you might see near the visitor center are ocotillo, cholla, desert bighorn sheep, roadrunners, black-tailed jackrabbits, and several species of hummingbirds.
At first glance, the desert can seem like an inhospitable place, which makes Anza-Borrego’s wildflower bloom seem all the more miraculous. The park’s more than 200 flowering plant species put on a brilliant display each spring—if winter rains have worked their magic.
Typically the bloom occurs between late February and April, with early March being the safest bet. Once the bloom starts, it lasts only for a few weeks.
Borrego Palm Canyon Trail usually has good displays of spiky ocotillo, saffron-yellow brittlebrush, and desert lavender. For a longer trek, hike about 3 miles into Hellhole Canyon and reap rewards of flowering barrel cactus and sweet-smelling lupine, plus cascading water at Maidenhair Falls.
If you have a 4WD, scope out the sand verbena and dune evening primrose along what’s commonly called Coyote Canyon Jeep Trail, a dirt road at the north end of DiGiorgio Road.
There are more stories to tell about some of the other interesting places in this area. Watch this space.
Where to Stay: Palm Canyon Campground (Anza-Borrego Desert State Park); The Springs at Borrego RV Resort and Golf Course
I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.
There’s more to the Grand Canyon State than its namesake
Arizona is brimming with surprisingly underrated and unique cities and towns and southwestern dining guaranteed to take your taste buds for a ride. So grab your camera, hiking boots, and sense of adventure and hit the back roads of the Wild West for an unforgettable journey.
Enveloped by the vast Sonoran Desert, Tucson is a vibrant and colorful southwestern city. Barrio Viejo, meaning old neighborhood in Spanish, is an area near downtown Tucson that is an important, historical part of the community. The original Barrio neighborhood built between 1880 and 1920 using traditional Mexican Village architecture, houses were built of thick-walled adobe with a flat roof, wood beams, and ocotillo, or saguaro cactus ribs, coverings.
At nearby Saguaro National Park witness the towering saguaro cactus—crowned king of the Sonoran Desert—in its native environment. Then, hike to the pinnacle of Mount Lemmon—just north of Tucson, it’s the highest point in the Catalina Mountains.
Just under two hours from Tucson and a 20-minute drive from Phoenix, Scottsdale is a balmy retreat stationed on the edge of the Valley of the Sun. Here, you’ll find high-end shopping, world-renowned spas, and a variety of hiking adventures.
Route 179 is the most scenic between the two destinations. It passes by Casa Grande Ruins, one of the largest prehistoric structures on the continent. Additional outdoor attractions in Scottsdale include the Desert Botanical Garden and Camelback Mountain. See an abundance of cacti, succulents, and colorful wildflowers at the gardens before a four-hour climb to the top of the mountain for 360-degree views of Scottsdale and neighboring Phoenix.
Two hours north is Sedona, a destination for spa enthusiasts, art connoisseurs, and outdoor adventurers alike. This mystical retreat is flanked by red-rock buttes, steep canyons, and pine forests shaping an otherworldly environment that’s equal parts Wild West and understated luxury.
Get there by continuing along Highway 179, also known as the Red Rock Scenic Byway. Break for dessert along the way at Rock Springs Cafe. This landmark, famous for its award-winning pies, was established in 1918. Its close proximity to the highway makes it convenient for road-trippers. Indulge in a seasonal treat like the strawberry rhubarb crumb pie or try its best-selling Jack Daniel’s pecan pie.
A beautiful two-hour drive from Sedona, the magic of the Grand Canyon awaits. One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is the cherry on top of an Arizona road trip experience. Take 89A out of the Sedona. Break at Midgley Bridge on the outskirts of Sedona for a quick hike down Oak Creek Canyon.
Check out El Tovar Hotel. This historic property opened its doors in 1905 and has entertained celebrities and presidents for the past 100 plus years. Mere steps from the Grand Canyon’s edge, El Tovar is both elegant and rustic with breathtaking views from every window. The resort’s Dining Room is as close to the canyon as you can get and the authentic cuisine is almost as memorable as the views from the tables closest to the windows.
Experts say the South and North Rims are the best places from which to behold the scale of the natural landmark. The South Rim, right outside El Tovar’s doors, is accessible year-round. Look forward to hikes of varying lengths that cater to explorers of every skill level. Plan a hike at sunrise and bring along a breakfast picnic.
Page, a water sports lover’s paradise, is another three-hour drive north. Continue along 89A toward Utah and reserve several hours for a tour of Antelope Canyon. Weave through the winding walls of this sandstone formation with a camera in hand; the wave-like structures and light that breaks through the canyon’s slots are straight out of a photographer’s fantasy.
Lake Powell is located in northern Arizona and stretches into southern Utah. It’s part of the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. With nearly 2,000 miles of shoreline, endless sunshine, warm water, perfect weather, and some of the most spectacular scenery in the west, Lake Powell is the ultimate playground. Rent a houseboat, stay at the campground, or enjoy the lodging and hop aboard a guided expedition.
In Page, check into Wahweep RV Park or adjacent Lake Powell Resort. This serene and peaceful property nestled in the heart of the desert boasts old-fashioned allure and modern comforts.
The magic of Horseshoe Bend is a mere stone’s throw south of Page. One of the most iconic venues in Arizona, this unusually shaped bend in the Colorado River is best enjoyed from an overlook that towers 4,000-plus feet above sea level. The easy hike from the parking lot to the overlook is less than a mile.
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.
38 miles north of Wenden, Arizona off Arizona State Highway 60 one finds a rare oasis in the otherwise arid Sonora Desert
Offering a scenic, cacti-studded landscape with a
mountainous backdrop, Alamo Lake is tucked away in the Bill Williams River
Valley. In addition to picturesque desert scenery, Alamo Lake State Park has much
to offer its visitors recreationally. The area is known for its exceptional
bass fishing opportunities, as well as canoeing, kayaking, and camping.
For nature lovers, spring rains bring an abundance of wildflowers
and the lake environment attracts a variety of wildlife year round, including bald
and golden eagles, waterfowl, foxes, coyotes, mule deer, and wild burros. Stargazers
too will be in awe when the sun sets and the desert sky becomes aglow with
stars, uninhibited by nearby city lights or smog.
Alamo Lake, located on the Bill Williams River where the Big
Sandy River and Santa Maria River come together, was created with the
completion of Alamo Dam in 1968. The Army Corps of Engineers designed the
earthen dam primarily for flood control. During flood events, the lake basin is
capable of handling large amounts of water in a relatively short time. The lake
has been recorded rising 11 vertical feet in one night! Unusually high flows
during the late 1970s and through the 1980s have increased the average size of
the lake, helping to create one of Arizona’s best fishing holes.
The lake is enclosed to the south, west, and north by low
hills and beyond by mountain wilderness areas, and is a good place for a few
days relaxation, or as a base from which to explore the surrounding lands.
Nestled in the Bill Williams River Valley away from the
hustle and bustle of everyday life, Alamo Lake State Park offers outdoor
fun, premier bass fishing, rest and relaxation.
Despite its rather remote location, Alamo Lake State
Park receives relatively large numbers of visitors in the mild seasons of
spring, winter, and fall, mostly because of the good fishing it offers—bass and
catfish are especially plentiful. The desert setting and low elevation (1,230
feet) result in uncomfortably hot conditions in summer.
Fishing tournaments are common at the lake and anglers have
an excellent opportunity to catch bluegill, largemouth bass, channel catfish,
and black crappie.
Individual and group camping is available at Alamo Lake
State Park. There are 19 full hook-up RV sites with 50 amp electric, water, and
sewer located in the Main Campground. Each site has a picnic table and a
fire ring. There is no limit to maximum RV length at these sites. Additional
sites have 30/50 amp electric and water at each site.
Campground B has 27 electric sites. The Ramada
Area has 12 electric sites. Cholla Campground area has 41
electric sites with 30 amp service. Each site has a picnic table and a fire
Dry camping is also available in Campgrounds D and E. Also
Campground A has 21 sites while Campground B has 15 sites. Site reservations
Ideal for snowbirds, Long Term Camping Sites are available
from October 1 through March 31 with the minimum length of stay 28 days (4
weeks) and the maximum 48 days (12 weeks).
A great time to visit Alamo Lake State Park is during spring
because of the profusion of wildflowers and cactus blooms beside the lake and
in the desert along the 33 mile Alamo Lake Road. Starting at the small and rather
forlorn town of Wenden on US-60, the route heads north, climbing
gradually into the Harcuvar Mountains.
Passing a few mines and side tracks, the road enter the wide
Butler Valley. The land along this long straight road is undeveloped with numerous
wildflowers and cacti including saguaro and distant mountain scenery.
At the far side of the valley, the road curves around the
edge of the Buckskin Mountains and gradually descends towards the lake.
The main route leads to the dam and an overlook just before
winding eastwards between distant shores and even more remote hills in the
distance. The very end of the road is private but open to foot travel, and from
here begins the hike down the Bill Williams River Canyon.
Alone in the open desert,
I have made up songs of wild, poignant rejoicing and
The world has seemed more beautiful to me than ever before.
I have loved the red rocks, the twisted trees, the sand
blowing in the wind, the slow, sunny clouds crossing the sky, the shafts of
moonlight on my bed at night.
February, a time when much of the country is covered in snow drifts, is a time when many start feeling the desire to head somewhere warmer for a bit of an escape from the drab. Summer is still a long way out and the holidays are far enough behind us that we are ready for adventure.
Traveling in mid-winter and before the spring break rush can
often mean cheaper prices but not always as this is high season for RV parks
and resorts in warmer destinations due to absolutely stunning weather.
Like the preceding month, February is also from the Romans
and it denotes that this month is when the Roman purification festival of
Februa is held. Februa is on the 15th of the month, and it is all about
cleansing. Maybe this is why it is the shortest month, because undertaking a
cleanse of any type is hard to keep up with.
February might be the month of romance but there’s not much
to love about the ongoing trudge of a Northern winter unless you’re a snowbird
hanging out in a Sunbelt resort.
Carnival season brings feasts and festivities with parties
popping everywhere from the Florida panhandle to Galveston.
Scroll through our list of great February destinations to
plan your next adventure and escape the daily grind of winter.
Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January. Also check out our recommendations from February 2019.
‘I don’t want realism. I want magic,’ cooed Blanche DuBois
in Tennessee Williams’ A Streetcar Named
Desire, an enduring love letter to this romantic city. Mardi Gras certainly
delivers on that. The iconic two-week carnival sees daily parades and
masquerade balls transform New Orleans into a riotous party town. Don a mask,
discard your inhibitions, and wander the city. After the festivities, crawl out
of bed for a meal of gumbo over cheese grits and stroll through the cobblestone
alleyways of the French Quarter to a soundtrack of Otis Redding and Aretha
You’ve heard of Palm Springs and Palm Desert but
Anza-Borrego is the desert destination for anyone who really wants to put high
clearance and a sense of adventure to good use. The park encompasses more than
600,000 acres with 500 miles of paved and jeep roads traversing canyons,
badlands, and mud caves and leading to pitch-perfect palm oases.
Las Vegas is a resort city set in the Mojave Desert in
Nevada. The city is renowned for its raucous nightlife and 24-hour
entertainment, and it is especially famous for its casinos, which never close.
You’ll find a number of impressive themed hotels situated along a 4-mile
stretch known as The Strip. The hotels have scale replicas of some of the
world’s most famous attractions such as the Eiffel Tower and the Pyramids of
Giza. You’ll also find impressive shows on offer every night, rounding out
Vegas’ offerings as a city quite unlike anywhere else in the United States.
February is the shoulder season with fewer crowds than other times of year and
when you tire of all the glitz, Lake Mead National Recreation Area and the
Grand Canyon are a short drive away.
Orlando is a central Florida city with an especially dense
concentration of theme parks. There are more than a dozen parks in the city
with some of the most famous being the multiple parks at Disney World as well
as Universal Orlando. Due to the theme parks, the area is very popular with
family travelers. The weather in Orlando in February is perfect, but the top
tourist attractions can be quite busy during this time of year. Visit the theme
parks early and book your RV resort well in advance if you plan to visit during
this beautiful time of year.
Phoenix is the sprawling metropolitan capital city of
Arizona. It is best known as a destination for golfing and high-end spa
retreats. Other popular attractions include the Desert Botanical Garden, South
Mountain Park, Phoenix Zoo, and Tempe Town Lake. February is a great time to
visit because the weather is mild, the temperatures are tolerable, and there are
activities in abundance. However, it is quite a popular season among snowbirds
so expect crowds and higher prices on RV resorts especially toward the end of
February when Spring Training starts.
San Antonio is a large city in south-central Texas that has
an interesting cultural and historical heritage. An 18th century Spanish
mission, The Alamo has been converted into a museum that details the struggle
for Texas’ independence from Mexico. Wandering the pedestrian walkway along the
San Antonio River in downtown is a popular pastime for visitors and locals
alike as it is lined with many interesting shops and tasty cafes. Summer in San
Antonio brings temperatures that are unbearable for many, so February is a
popular month to visit. It also is the time of the annual San Antonio Stock
Show and Rodeo, which brings many to town.
Santa Fe is the capital city of New Mexico and has a deep
Native American heritage as it was inhabited by native peoples for several
thousand years before settlers came. It is located in the scenic Sangre de
Cristo foothills and is known for its unique Pueblo-style architecture. The
city is a haven for artists, and everywhere you turn there is some sort of
creative venture happening. Popular attractions include the Georgia O’Keeffe
Museum, the San Miguel Mission, and the Museum of International Folk Art.
February is a good time to come if you hope to ski in the Sangre de Cristo
Mountains, attend ARTfeast, or just make the most of cooler temperatures and
My parents live in the part of the United States that is
Canada. It is so far north that Minnesota lies in the same direction as Miami.
They have four distinct seasons: Winter, More Winter, Still More Winter, and
That One Day of Summer.
To start your planning we’ve picked some of the top destinations for fun this winter in Arizona
Many snowbirds wintering in the Grand Canyon State flock to Tucson, Yuma, or the Phoenix metro area. Regardless of where you roost this season, Arizona has plenty of options for winter fun outside these metro areas.
While the bounty of outdoor recreation opportunities might
be too much for a lifetime, it will assure you that your days in the Arizona
sun will have plenty of action.
The Superstitions, looming east of Apache Junction, are the
largest of the mountain ranges ringing Phoenix. Stretching 24 miles east and
west and 9 to 12 miles north and south, the wilderness is crossed by trails
ranging from flat and easy to steep and strenuous. The 160,200-acre wilderness area,
part of Tonto National Forest, contains one of the state’s most popular trails—the
Peralta—yet the vast interior of the Superstitions boasts some of the state’s
most rugged, seldom-seen territory.
The Apache Trail through the Superstition Mountains was
built to supply construction workers building Roosevelt Dam in the early 1900s.
Saguaro-covered hills and deep canyons stretch for miles, broken by red-rock
cliffs and hoodoos.
The area is a favorite of sightseers, boaters, hikers, and
anglers. The Apache Trail, aka State Route 88, is not for the squeamish or
those afraid of heights. It’s full of twists and turns, rising and falling with
the hills and valleys. Part of the road is paved; the graded dirt stretch is
suitable for most cars but not recommended for large RVs.
Casa Grande Ruins
The Hohokam people built these structures when they were
near the height of their power some 700 years ago. They created villages that
extended from the site of modern-day Phoenix to southern Arizona. They laid
down 1,000 miles of irrigation canals in the Salt River Valley, a network that
eventually supported enough fields to feed about 40,000 people. The monument
preserves 60 prehistoric sites, including a four-story earthen structure. Interpretive
walking tours and exhibits are available.
Here’s something that no other park in the Maricopa County
system has: 65 acres of grassy picnic space. In addition to picnicking, the
park has close to 20,000 acres of desert topography for hikers, bicyclists,
joggers, and horseback riders. Duffers can try the links at Tres Rios Golf
Course, and fishermen can catch and release along the Gila River, which runs
through the park.
Established in 1752 as a Spanish fort, Tubac is an
exquisite, brightly painted town with more than 100 galleries, shops, and
restaurants lining its meandering streets. A quaint haven for artists, Tubac
was the first permanent European settlement in what later became Arizona.
A half day can easily disappear wandering amongst this
wealth of painting, sculpture, ceramics, and photography, as well as unique
regional fashion, leather, crafts, antiques, and jewelry.
Located in Tubac’s Old Town, Tubac Presidio State Historic
Park offers a fascinating look at the history of the Santa Cruz Valley.
In the northwest face of the Santa Rita Mountains, one of southeast Arizona’s forested Sky Islands, the cool refuge of Madera Canyon is just 25 miles south of Tucson and 12 miles east of Green Valley. This is part of the Coronado National Forest.
Madera Canyon, with active springs and a seasonal creek, is
a lush oasis supporting an amazing diversity of life zones of the Santa Rita
Mountains and Madera Canyon. Beneath the shade of the trees, Madera Creek
tumbles over bedrock and boulder. Water and stream-borne sediment gradually
grind rocks to gravel, gravel to pebbles, and pebbles to sand.
A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up