Beautifully Bizarre Joshua Tree Has Springtime Written All Over it

Camp, hike, and rock climb your way through California’s High Desert

California’s Mojave Desert has inspired a number of monumental artistic endeavors including the fictional planet Tatooine in Star Wars and the iconic U2 album The Joshua Tree. But Joshua Tree National Park which lies within the boundaries of the Mojave has a landscape and special magnetism all its own. People come to Joshua Tree for their own special reasons. Sometimes it’s wilderness. Other times people come here for the music history, the diversity of raptors, or the epic landscapes. People come to Joshua Tree to find themselves. And find yourself you will—whether you’re hiking, biking, rock climbing, camping, stargazing, or daydreaming about selling all your stuff to move to the desert. Here’s how to do it all on your next trip.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best time to visit Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree is open (and beautiful!) year round. Come in the spring or fall for the best weather (but keep in mind, the park gets extra busy January through April). If you visit in the hot summer months, plan outdoor activities early in the morning or later in the day when the air is cooler just to be safe. Most people spend four hours in the park according to park rangers. But Joshua Tree’s abundance of jaw-dropping geological and ecological sights mean one could spend days exploring the otherworldly landscape.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fuel up in the funky artist towns nearby

There are over 100 miles of roads within the park and not a gas station in sight so fill up beforehand. The quirky towns surrounding the park—especially Joshua Tree, Twentynine Palms, and Yucca Valley—are also your best bet for grabbing a bite and a beer after a long day in the park. Populated by UFOlogists, solitude seekers, antique dealers, and offbeat creatives drawn to the desert, there are plenty of unusual adventures to be had in town. Definitely swing by Pioneertown which served as a film set for Old Westerns in a past life and today houses the area’s most famous bar and music venue, Pappy & Harriet’s.

Joshua Tree National Park Cottonwood entrance © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Getting into Joshua Tree National Park

The park’s larger than Rhode Island which means there’s a lot of ground to cover. Of the three main entrances, the Joshua Tree entrance (known as the West Entrance) is often the busiest. The North and South Entrances near Twentynine Palms and the Cottonwood Visitors Center, respectively, are less crowded. Get there early; parking lots often fill up by mid-morning.

Just drive up to one of the park’s entrances and pay at the booth. A seven-day vehicle permit runs $30. Alternatively, $55 gets you a pass valid for a full year—OR, if you think you’ll visit more than one national park in the next 12 months (and you should!), NPS offers an $80 pass that buys you entry to any park for a year.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hit Joshua Tree’s best hiking trails 

Once you’re all geared up with hiking boots and as much water as you can carry (seriously, it’s hot, especially in summer), it’s time to hit the trails. Skull Rock Nature Trail is one of the most popular in the park. From the Jumbo Rocks Campground, it’ll take you winding through about 1.7 miles of desert until you arrive at Skull Rock, an enormous boulder with two eye sockets carved into it by years of water erosion. It’s a pretty mild route and great for beginners. 

The second trail you should hit is the Wonderland of Rocks which lives up to its name. Pebbles, stones, and giant boulders are yours to traverse for 5.5 wonderful miles. Given the terrain, it’s considered a difficult trail so be sure you’re up to the task.

Keys View, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around sunrise or sunset, wander over to Keys View, the highest lookout point in Joshua Tree at 5,187 feet. You can look out across the Coachella Valley and see as far as the Salton Sea and Palm Springs on clear days.

Check out the unparalleled plant and animal life 

I’ll assume you know the park’s tall and spiky namesake: the Yucca brevifolia, more commonly known as the “Joshua Tree.” In Spanish, the tree is known as izote de desierto, or desert dagger, which pretty much sums it up. It’s important to remember that since these trees are native to this 1,235-square mile expanse of desert, they’re strictly protected—aka, no touchy!

Cholla Cactus Garden, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Cholla Cactus Garden to walk amongst hundreds of beautiful cholla. This flat loop leads hikers through nearly 10 acres of landscape dominated by the teddybear cholla. Swaying in the desert breeze they almost resemble coral (and, much like coral, should be left alone). A word of advice: do not attempt to pet this teddybear. The stem-joints can easily detach and hitch a ride due to the miniscule barbs on the spines giving it the nickname “jumping cholla.” Once they’ve latched on the spines are very painful to remove.

You’ll also spot the ocotillo (pronounced oh-koh-TEE-yoh), one of the most curious and unique plants of the southwestern United States. Ocotillos produce clusters of bright red flowers at their stem tips which explain the plant’s name. Ocotillo means “little torch” in Spanish.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park is known more for its flora than fauna but there’s also plenty of wildlife in and around the park. Birding is especially popular with native species like roadrunners, raptors, and migratory flocks as well. Predators like bobcats, coyotes, and snakes also roam these parts, and—lest we forget—keep an eye out for our adorable friend, the desert tortoise!

Wonderland of Rocks, Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree is a rock climber’s paradise

Whether you’re brand new to climbing or navigate cliffs like a baby mountain goat, Joshua Tree’s 9,000+ climbing routes means that everyone’s welcome to give it a go. I also feel the need to note that most of the routes have truly creative names; take, for example, Yabba Dabba Don’t (15-foot climb), Breakfast of Champions (170-foot climb with 2 pitches), Room to Shroom (80-foot climb), Dangling Woo Li Master (100-foot climb), and so on. 

For a route best suited to beginner and moderate climbers, head over to the Quail Springs area, home to the ever-charming Trashcan Rock, one of the most popular climbing spots due to its relative ease and the cool shade that covers it during the afternoon. Intersection Rock also makes a great spot for novices and The Eye ends with a tunnel that opens up onto excellent views across the desert.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Look up at the stars

Joshua Tree National Park is a Silver Tier International Dark Sky Park which means nighttime can be pretty extraordinary.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where to bed down at night

Of the 520 campsites in Joshua Tree National Park about half are first-come, first-serve. The others accept reservations through Recreation.gov.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What to bring and other essential tips

Sunscreen and water are must-haves year-round. The National Park Service stresses that there are no water sources inside the park, so again, pack a lot of water… and then pack even more. Binoculars, sturdy hiking shoes, snacks, a flashlight, a camera, and wide-brimmed hat (I recommend a Tilley) are also suggested.

To avoid being one of the approximately 60 search-and-rescue operations Joshua Tree sees every year, explore the park with a buddy and always let people know where you’re going. Cell phones don’t work in most of the park so if communication is crucial bring a satellite phone and a printed map to get around.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over 80 percent of Joshua Tree is officially designated wilderness—emphasis on wild. Be respectful of wildlife to avoid tangling with an angry critter. And if you remember one thing about your visit to Joshua Tree National Park, it should be “leave no trace.” Be sure to leave the park as pristine as you found it to help preserve its natural beauty for generations to come.

Worth Pondering…

Trampled in dust I’ll show you a place high on the desert plain where the streets have no

name, where the streets have no name …

— Joshua Tree, sung by U2, 1987

10 Amazing Places to RV in May

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

May is a very nurturing month with mild temperatures that encourage people to enjoy the outdoors. Can’t you almost taste it? Summer’s sparkling citrusy zing in May’s advancing warmth and brightening light. In northern states and Canada, it’s a time to start braving lunch on park benches, light jackets in place of thick coats. Mercifully, the rest of America is emerging into summer proper, everywhere from Utah high desert to Texas and Kentucky. Even Canada’s warming up! So why wait a minute longer? It’s high time you hit the road.

There’s a lot to love about May: sunnier days, more time outside, and farmer’s markets just beginning to shine.

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in March and April. Also check out our recommendations from May 2020.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina Road Trip

Mountains and beaches, food and art, history and wildlife—South Carolina has it all. With scenic mountains to the north, secluded beaches to the east, and charming towns scattered in between, South Carolina has a variety of landscapes that suit every mood. Embark on a road trip through the Palmetto state starting in the cultural capital of Greenville and traveling south to discover magnificent waterfalls, unique state parks, southern history, equestrian traditions, and fresh seafood. 

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About half an hour outside Columbia in the lush backcountry is Congaree National Park where you can see the largest intact old-growth bottomland hardwood forests in the southeastern US. Spend a day hiking, canoeing, or kayaking along 25 miles of swamps and forests. If you are at Congaree in late May to early June, you can also watch a magical firefly synchronization mating phenomenon that occurs at only a few spots around the world. 

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California’s Giant Sequoias

When you think of California’s giant redwood trees, you likely imagine coastal redwoods. Those are the tall ones dotting the rugged northern California coastline and a road trip to see them is a must-do. But the giant sequoias are no slouches themselves! The giant sequoias you’ll see on this road trip are only known to exist in 75 specific groves along the western slopes of the Sierra Nevadas. What makes these giants unique is that they grow incredibly large around their base and this differentiates them from coastal redwoods which are typically measured in height.

Giant Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This specific journey will take you to the Discovery Tree, the first sequoia noted by naturalists in the 1850s and should the weather permit give you a sunset in the famed Yosemite Valley. Have your camera charged and ready to capture the magic of this road trip destination as Ansel Adams once saw it. And continue southward to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park and explore Grant Grove, Giant Forest, and General Sherman Tree, the world’s largest tree measured by volume.

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

Built between A.D. 1200 and 1300, Hovenweep was once home to over 2,500 people. Explore the variety of unique structures at the six prehistoric villages that make up the Hovenweep National Monument. Hikes from the Visitor Center range from a 300-yard paved walk to the Stronghold House, to a 1.5-mile loop trail that takes visitors past structures in and along Little Ruin Canyon such as Hovenweep Castle, Square Tower, Hovenweep House, and Twin Towers. Ranger-led Dark Sky Astronomy Programs are offered spring through fall, weather permitting. Call ahead for details.

Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Deep Bayou Drive from NOLA

You should start this road trip with a rollicking good time in New Orleans’ French Quarter. Enjoy a few late NOLA nights, too many Hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, and some jazz at Preservation Hall, then sleep all that off before heading west (in your RV, of course) to begin a deep bayou road trip adventure. The area is known for its swampland dotted with moss-draped cypress trees teeming with wildlife which makes it the perfect destination for bird watching, paddling, fishing, and numerous other outdoor activities.

Lake Martin © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The best road to drive is Highway 31 which will take you along Bayou Teche from New Iberia to Breaux Bridge, a scenic route with garlands of moody Spanish moss that dangle from oaks and cypress trees while alligators and herons splash about in the swampy lagoons. Nature watchers and photographers have immediate access to some of the best birding sites in North America including Lake Martin (near Breaux Bridge) with its expansive shoreline and bottomland hardwood forest. At last count, birders have spotted 240 species here. In the evenings, snowy, great and cattle egrets, little blue herons, green herons, and yellow-crowed night herons gather to roost. Be sure to tour the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site where you’ll learn about the area’s Creole and Cajun history and culture.

Alamo Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamo Lake, Arizona

Often touted as one of the best bass fishing destinations in the western United States, Alamo Lake State Park is gearing up for another banner season! Bass will spawn as water temperatures rise this spring which makes them much easier to catch during your trip to this Sonoran Desert outdoor playground! Although bass fishing is on the agenda for many, this park offers so much more than memories hooked in the expansive lake…But, if you’ve thought about taking the dive into a new outdoor hobby, this is the place to do it, and the best time of year is coming up quick!

Jekyll Island Club © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fodor’s Travel lists islands to visit

The well-known island getaways across the U.S. get all the glory but there are plenty of hidden gem islands which offer an equally stunning escape but with a little more peace and quiet. If you’re seeking a secluded and intimate getaway, look no further than Jekyll Island off the coast of Georgia. This coastal haven recently caught the attention of Fodor’s Travel (Forget Hawaii. Go to These 10 U.S. Islands Instead). This 5,500-acre island is home to 10 miles of shoreline and a variety of events, family-friendly activities, and attractions. From the iconic Driftwood Beach to the island’s historical homes (Jekyll Island Club), the Georgia Sea Turtle Center, and more, Jekyll Island has something for everyone.

Jekyll Island Campground © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Park your RV under the magnificent oaks on the northern tip of Jekyll Island. Located opposite the Clam Creek Picnic Area, you are near Driftwood Beach, the fishing pier and fascinating historic ruins. The Jekyll Island Campground offers 18 wooded acres with 206 campsites from tent sites to full hook-ups, pull through RV sites with electricity, cable TV, water, and sewerage. Wi-Fi and DSL

Other islands on Fodor’s list include Sanibel Island in Florida, Michigan’s Mackinac Island, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina which include Roanoke, Hatteras, and Ocracoke islands. To which I also add Georgia’s Cumberland Island.

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

Get wild in America’s newest national park

Last December we welcomed America’s 63rd National Park with West Virginia’s scenic New River Gorge. (If you’re still wondering how a place scores that designation, we’ve got you covered.) And No. 63 is brimming with beauty: There are cliffs and rocks galore along the really cool, actually-really-old river for all your adventuring needs. But the lazier among us can also enjoy eerie ghost towns and the third-highest bridge in the US for some great photo ops. Perusing Instagram shows us she’s especially gorgeous in spring making it a great time to visit right now before the masses catch on.

Vogel State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park, Georgia

One of the oldest state parks in Georgia, Vogel was established in 1931 and remains one of the most beloved north Georgia attractions. Situated at the base of Blood Mountain in the heart of the Chattahoochee National Forest, Vogel State Park has some truly gorgeous hiking trails.

I especially love the Trahlyta Lake Trail which crosses an earthen dam built back in 1935 by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC). You’ll also get a chance to gaze at one of the most alluring waterfalls in Georgia, Trahlyta Falls. You can hike right alongside it via the Bear Hair Gap Trail, which guides you through the lower ridges of Blood Mountain.

For overnight stays the park offers 34 one- and two-bedroom cottages as well as walk-in campsites and RV-accessible campsites that have pull-through or back-in driveways.

From Moki Dugway to the Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Trail of the Ancients and the Moki Dugway, Colorado and Utah

The Trail of the Ancients which traverses Colorado and Utah is America’s only national scenic byway dedicated solely to archaeology and will take you to some of the most famous sights in the country including Four Corners, Monument Valley, and Mesa Verde National Park. You could make this 480-mile drive straight through in one long day but following a six-day itinerary allows you to truly experience the Native American history along the route. The Trail of Ancients is paved save for a harrowing three-mile, switchback-laden stretch known as the Moki Dugway as it descends to the Valley of the Gods offering unrivaled panoramic views of this otherworldly landscape.

Dauphin Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama’s Coastal Connection

True to its name the 130-mile-long Alabama’s Coastal Connection connects multiple communities and cities bordering Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico. It also connects travelers to nature and history at nearby preserves, parks, and historic sites. The scenic byway features a ride on the Mobile Bay Ferry connecting Dauphin Island to the Fort Morgan Peninsula. The 40-minute ride across the mouth of Mobile Bay spans two historic forts where the Battle of Mobile Bay took place during the Civil War. Here Union Adm. David G. Farragut bellowed his now immortal command, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”

Fort Gaines © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Dauphin Island to Orange Beach, Alabama’s 60 miles of Gulf Coast includes white-sand beaches. For a socially distant experience, explore the 7,100-acre Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge on the Fort Morgan Peninsula. In addition to beach access points to uncrowded sands, there are hiking trails through a maritime forest and coastal dune habitats with views of saltwater lagoons, freshwater lakes, the beach, the bay and the chance to see lots of wildlife. A number of waterfront towns line the coast. The artsy Eastern Shore enclave of Fairhope has a pier jutting a quarter-mile into the bay with an adjacent beach park and shady areas for a quiet picnic.

Worth Pondering…

When April steps aside for May, like diamonds all the rain-drops glisten; fresh violets open every day; to some new bird each hour we listen.

Springtime in the Smokies

Springtime in the Smoky Mountains is a nature lover’s paradise

Spring is one of the most popular times to visit Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains and it’s easy to see why. When the last traces of winter melt away the Smokies offer idyllic weather, beautiful greenery, and a variety of fun seasonal events and activities.

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

Great Smoky Mountains is the most visited national park in America with over 11 million visitors a year. That is more than the number of visits of the next two national parks combined.

From photo-worthy vistas to outdoor recreation and everything in between, this most-visited national park offers something for everyone.

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

Any season is a good one to visit the Smokies but spring is a favorite. Autumn is indeed beautiful but the roads and trails are crowded. In spring, the trees are budding and the wildflowers are popping through the ground at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

On a springtime visit you’ll enjoy seeing the trees bud and blossom and the wildflowers. No place this size matches the Great Smoky Mountains National Park’s variety of plant and animal species. Here are more tree species than in Northern Europe, 1,500 flowering plants, over 200 species of birds, and 60 of mammals.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a world-renowned preserve of wildflower diversity—over 1,500 kinds of flowering plants are found in the park, more than in any other North American national park. In fact, the park is sometimes referred to as the “Wildflower National Park.” From the earliest hepaticas and spring-beauties in the late winter to the last asters in the late fall, blooming flowers can be found year-round in the park Trilliums of many varieties, violets, wild columbine, Fire Pink, Showy Orchis, Dutchman’s Britches, Squirrel Corn, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit are just a few of the wildflowers that make their appearance in the spring.

A group of flowers known as spring ephemerals begins the yearly show. Ephemerals are so named because they appear above ground only in late winter and early spring, then flower, fruit, and die back within a short two month period. They emerge from February through April, and are gone (dormant) by late May or June.

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

This remarkable group of plants is adapted to the rhythm of the overstory trees. Ephemerals appear before deciduous trees leaf out when full sunlight is streaming to the forest floor. This is also a time when soil moisture is high and soil nutrients are plentiful due to the decomposition of tree leaves that fell the previous autumn.

The ephemerals exploit these conditions—they flower, fruit, and their above-ground parts decay before summer gets into full swing. The peak of spring wildflower blooming usually occurs in mid-April to early May at lower elevations in the park, and a few weeks later on the highest peaks.

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

Spring ephemerals include flowers such as trillium (the park has 10 different species), lady slipper orchids, showy orchis, crested dwarf iris, fire pink, columbine, bleeding heart, phacelia, jack-in-the-pulpit, little brown jugs, and violets, to name just a few.

In summer the display continues with brilliant red cardinal flowers, pink turtleheads, Turk’s cap lily, small purple-fringed orchids, bee-balm, butterfly-weed, black-eyed susans, jewel weed, and many others.

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

By late summer and through the fall, goldenrod, wide-leaved sunflowers, tall ironweed, mountain gentian, monk’s hood, coneflowers, and numerous varieties of asters begin to bloom. Purple umbels of sweet Joe-Pye-weed stretch towards the sky and can reach heights of ten feet.

Trees and shrubs bloom throughout the year too. From February through April the flowers of red maples paint the mountains with a wash of brilliant red. Showy trees such as serviceberry, silverbell, flowering dogwood, redbud, Fraser magnolia, and tuliptree soon follow. Later in summer sourwood, a tree prized for the honey that bees produce from its small bell-shaped, white flowers, begins to bloom. The year ends with the yellow flowers of witch-hazel, which blooms from October through January.

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

Closer to the ground on shrubs, the small, bright yellow blossoms of spicebush begin to bloom in February and are soon joined by sweetshrub, dog-hobble, and flame azalea. The park is famous for its displays mountain laurel, rhododendron, and flame azaleas. The lovely pink and white flowers of mountain laurel bloom in early May through June.

Rhododendrons in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catawba rhododendron, which lives primarily at elevations above 3,500 feet, reaches its peak of bloom in June. Rosebay rhododendron is in bloom at the lower elevations in June and at mid-elevations during July. Flame azaleas bloom at the low and mid-elevations in April and May. On Gregory Bald the colorful display peaks in late June or early July. On Andrews Bald the peak is usually in early July.

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

Get ready for the 71st annual Wildflower Pilgrimage in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park! Every year, you can be a part of the event and experience guided hikes that explore all sorts of nature in the national park—wildflowers, wildlife, culture, history, and more. This year’s Wildflower Pilgrimage will be May 8th- 16th and virtual. It’s a great way to see the Smoky Mountains, learn a little bit more about the history of the area and, of course, see all of the beautiful Smoky Mountain spring wildflowers.

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

Worth Pondering…

I think, being from east Tennessee, you’re kinda born with a little lonesome in your soul, in your blood. You know you’ve got that Appalachian soul.

—Ashley Monroe

The 16 Best National Parks for Families to Explore this Spring

Following the past pandemic winter hibernation a national park adventure is one of the best family vacation ideas for spring

During April and May, national parks tend to be less crowded and cooler then during peak summer travel which means plenty of outdoor space to stretch out and burn off energy. As an added bonus, April brings National Park Week (April 17-25, in 2021), an annual celebration that includes FREE admission and special junior ranger programs for kids.

Spring is prime time for wildflowers, to spot baby wildlife, hit the hiking trails, and enjoy seasonal waterfalls. Here are 16 of the best national parks in spring throughout the United States. These exceptional public lands will help you reconnect and reboot.

Saguaro cactus in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Spring is the perfect time to visit Saguaro before the triple-digit summertime temperatures descend on the Sonoran Desert. The region’s giant saguaro cactuses are an iconic symbol of the Southwest and families are bound to see plenty of them along hiking trails and driving routes through the east or west section of the park. The greatest diversity of spring-blooming cacti species can be seen in April. The cactus show continues as the abundant prickly pears bloom in early May followed by saguaros from mid May to mid June.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Visitors will find cooler spring temperatures at Grand Canyon with even a chance of snow on the Rim. The possibility of rain and snow, combined with more breezes and skies clear of haze and smog (that tends to drift from Las Vegas and Southern California) makes spring an ideal time to see the canyon in all its drama and beauty.

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

New River Gorge National Park & Preserve, West Virginia

In January 2021, New River Gorge was elevated to national park status focusing national attention on the natural beauty of one of West Virginia’s most beloved playgrounds. The New River is one of those places that gets under your skin and stays with you especially if you enjoy outdoor activities. Spring at New River Gorge means whitewater through deep canyons, the perfect backdrop for thrilling family rafting trips.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Spring at Shenandoah National Park brings blooming wildflowers and trees, flowing waterfalls and migrating songbirds. Only 75 miles west of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah is an easy escape from the bustle of the city. A park hallmark is Skyline Drive, the scenic byway that runs 105 miles north and south along the mountaintop ridge. To escape any April showers, duck into Luray Caverns, located just outside park boundaries for a cave exploration filled with towering stone formations and massive caverns.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee and North Carolina

Each spring, the hollows of Great Smoky Mountains National Park bloom with ephemerals such as trillium, lady slipper orchids, bleeding hearts, violets, and other native flora. For 71 years wildflower enthusiasts have enjoyed the show during the annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (May 8-16, in 2021). Later in spring, synchronous fireflies light up the woodland glens (dates vary year to year).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina

The 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway is among the most scenic drives in the Eastern U.S. Designed to “lie gently upon the land,” this national park corridor stretches from Shenandoah National Park to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park offering scenic mountain views and ample hiking opportunities along the way. Expect to find a mix of wildflowers and tree blossoms including dwarf iris, tulips, violets, and various species of rhododendrons and dogwood trees. Craggy Gardens (MP 364.6) has a particularly spectacular rhododendron bloom in late spring.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Opt for the family-friendly Riverside Walk and look for early blooming wildflowers such as desert marigold, slickrock paintbrush, and western columbine. You just may catch a glimpse of baby animals including wild turkey chicks, mule deer fawns, and bighorn sheep.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Breaks National Monument, Utah

Located north of Zion, Cedar Breaks National Monument is a 10,000-foot hidden gem, a wide red rock amphitheater similar to Bryce Canyon. Spring arrives later at this higher elevation but when it does, the meadows blaze with the brilliant colors of wildflower blooms. Be sure to hike to Spectra Point to glimpse the oldest tree in the park—a Bristlecone pine estimated to be 1,500 years old.

Mesa Verde National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Tours of the cliff dwellings begin in May but early spring travelers won’t miss out since cliff dwelling structures like Cliff Palace and Spruce Tree House can be viewed at overlooks year-round. Prior to June, the park is quieter with fewer crowds and moderate temperatures. A less-visited nearby site, Canyons of the Ancients National Monument has the highest concentration of Native American archaeological sites in the U.S.—more than 6,300 including cliff dwellings, kivas, petroglyphs, and sacred springs.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park, Texas

One of the least-visited national parks, Big Bend is a perfect place for physical distancing. Springtime at Big Bend National Park means cooler temperatures, wildflowers, and plenty of migrating birds. And Big Bend is a great place to explore the Rio Grande River which is framed by sheer canyon walls.

Congaree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Congaree National Park, South Carolina

Congaree National Park preserves 11,000 acres of old growth bottomland hardwood forest with some of the largest trees (of their kind) in the United States. The sun and water reflect the trees creating a complex world of depth, light, and life.Cypress knees spring from the swamp like forest stalagmites.The story of spring in Congaree, is the trees, water, flowers, light, and life working together to bring you something entirely new, entirely special.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

Above ground, the yucca bloom, cacti send out yellow arms, and mescal plants blossom across the Chihuahuan Desert landscape. Below ground, stalactites line cave ceilings and decorative rock formations keep youngsters enthralled along the Big Room Trail. Carlsbad Caverns is famous for its bat flight program and the Brazilian free-tailed bats make their migratory journey back to the park in late spring.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Summer gets hot in the desert but spring is the perfect season to visit. With its location within 1,200 square miles of Mojave and Colorado deserts, spring is prime time at Joshua Tree. Not only will you enjoy milder weather, you might also be treated to spectacular springtime displays of lupine, poppies, and Joshua tree blooms.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Spring is a time to enjoy sunshine and snow at Lassen Volcanic. The Manzanita Lake and Southwest Areas of the park remain accessible by car all year. Snow clearing on the park highway (which closes to through traffic in the snowy, winter season) begins in the Manzanita Lake Area in late March or early April. It takes two months on average to clear and open the 30-mile park highway. The snow clearing process is largely dependent on the depth of the winter snowpack and spring weather.

Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, Utah

Arches and Canyonlands are colorful siblings that are great to visit any time of year but to avoid the high heat of summer the best time to visit is now. Spring-time activities run the gamut in these two parks. Hiking is the main attraction with endless miles of trails. Some of the more popular hikes in Arches lead to Delicate Arch, Landscape Arch, Park Avenue, and the Windows Section. In Canyonlands explore the Island in the Sky with its trails to Whale Rock and ancient granaries on Aztec Butte. Longer treks in the Needles District can fill several days and more. Spring also is a time of renewal, and you can see this in the blooming flowers.

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

10 Amazing Places to RV in April

RV travel allows you to take the comforts of home on the road

April is when many RV destinations begin to bloom. Deserts of the Southwest bask in perfect temperatures, the calm before the summer sizzle. Elsewhere, there are springtime celebrations to mark the joy of a new season. It’s shoulder season at beach escapes everywhere from Florida to Southern California.

The bad news is COVID-19 has taken its toll on the tourism industry and continues to impact travel. Canadian snowbirds didn’t flock south this winter. Naturally, RVers are looking forward to the relaxation of these restrictions. But where are the most amazing places to RV this month?

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in February and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2020.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

A perennial stopover between Charlotte and Atlanta as well as one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, Greenville has become a destination in its own right. The walkable downtown, Instagrammable Main Street, and culinary scene are easy draws. Foodies can choose from cuisines reflecting a variety of cultures, authentic barbecue, and James Beard Award-nominated dishes. Greenville’s thriving arts community includes public sculptures and murals, the Peace Center (home to Greenville Symphony Orchestra), and the annual Artisphere which showcases 135 artists. Don’t miss 26-acre Falls Park on the Reedy. Plan to spend a day exploring the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail. Walk, run, or bike this 22-mile trail system which tracks along the Reedy River, an old railroad corridor, and city parks.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon and Sedona, Arizona

The Grand Canyon and Sedona— when paired together—provide a magical landscape overload.

In the case of Sedona that landscape may literally be magical as the town is home to so-called vortexes where various energies align to create spaces for communing with, well, whatever intangible thing it is you’re seeking. But don’t let that distract you from the red rock buttes and cliffs that jut out of the ground at most every turn. The Grand Canyon, of course, needs no introduction and the popular South Rim entryway is a scenic two-hour drive from Sedona. Sedona itself has numerous hiking trails for every skill level and you should also make time to visit Red Rock State Park and Oak Creek Canyon.

Louisiana swamp tours © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana Swamp Tours

Louisiana serves up a lot more memorable experiences than just bowls of its famed gumbo.

To experience an indelible part of the state’s past, present, and future visit the mysterious and exquisite swamps throughout south Louisiana, home to one of the planet’s richest and most diverse ecosystems. Perceived as beautiful and menacing, south Louisiana’s ancient swamps have long captivated writers, historians, and travelers. Just the name “Louisiana” brings to mind images of moss-draped oak trees, bald cypresses with massive, bottle-like trunks, and flat-bottom boats effortlessly gliding through waters populated with alligators. On a south Louisiana swamp tour, you’re likely to see all of those plus some unexpected surprises. All swamps have their own stories to tell and with the help of expert local guides you’re guaranteed to have the kind of adventure you’ll only find in Louisiana.

Chattanooga Choo Choo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel, Tennessee

To save Chattanooga’s Terminal Station (the first railway station in the south when it opened in 1909) from being demolished in the 1970s, a group of businessmen invested approximately $4 million into turning the Beaux Arts structure into a vacation destination. In addition to hotel rooms, the terminal complex also has retail shops, a comedy club, and a stunning rose garden. Recently procured by hospitality brand Life House Hotels, the property has debuted a new look with a new wine bar, 40-seat cinema, a recording studio, and revamped suites inside historic Pullman train cars.

Blue Bell Vreamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington County, Texas

Have you seen those iconic photos of a lone live oak tree on a small rise overlooking an endless field of bluebonnets? It may well have been snapped in Washington County. With old courthouse squares alive with shops and cafes, frequent town festivals, and historic Texas-independence sites, you can’t get more stereotypically small-town Texas than this. Sitting equal distance from Houston and Austin (about 70 miles from either), Washington County makes an easy country escape from the city. No town is more than 40 miles from the region’s main center, Brenham, home of Blue Bell ice cream.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Natural Bridges National Monument, Utah

Worth a visit any season of the year, Natural Bridges is particularly spectacular and enjoyable in spring. Take in the three towering natural bridges (Kachina, Owachomo, and Sipapu) from overlooks along Bridge View Drive, a paved 9-mile loop road, or by short hikes from each trailhead. For those who are looking for a longer hike, an 8.6-mile loop trail will take you past and/or under all three bridges.

And don’t hurry back; after dark, the skies around Natural Bridges provide a breathtakingly celestial view with thousands of stars visible. You’ll camp in solitude among the juniper trees at the Natural Bridges campground. The campground is conveniently located next to the visitor center off the main park road. Campsites are first-come, first-served and open year-round. Each site has a fire grill, picnic table, and tent pad but no running water, electricity, or hookups. Ranger-led Dark Sky Astronomy Programs are offered spring through fall. Call ahead for details.

Mingus Mountain Road © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mingus Mountain Scenic Road, Arizona

Traveling from Prescott to Jerome, you start out a mile high, finish a mile high and climb a mountain in the middle. This route rises from the expanse of the Prescott Valley abruptly to the heavily vegetated Black Hills. In Yeager Canyon the road is visually and physically enclosed by the vegetation and canyon walls. Descending from the top of Mingus Mountain to the Verde Valley there are spectacular views of the Mogollon Rim, San Francisco Peaks, and the red sandstone cliffs of the red rocks. This scenic road makes a smooth transition into the history of the mining area as it meets the Jerome, Clarkdale, Cottonwood Historic Road.

Walterboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walterboro, South Carolina

For those reminiscing about the warmth and familiarity of an authentic small town, Walterboro provides the perfect opportunity to step back through time. Nature lovers can take advantage of South Carolina’s year-round balmy weather and enjoy the quiet solitude of the ACE Basin and Walterboro Wildlife Sanctuary (formerly Great Swamp Sanctuary) which is accessible from downtown. Visitors are reminded of the town’s early days as a summer retreat—tree-lined streets where quaint homes with broad porches and beautiful churches date to the 18th century. Treasure-hunters love scouring the village’s dozen antique shops, finding everything from high-end antiques to fun vintage souvenirs or shopping the Colleton Farmers Market for farm-fresh produce and delicious homemade food products.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

There are big cities out there with little character and even less history but San Antonio is not one of them. The San Antonio River Walk (or Paseo del Rio) is a linear park that winds for thirteen miles from Brackenridge Park through downtown San Antonio and south to the farthest of the city’s five eighteenth-century Spanish missions. The central section of approximately 3½ miles is navigable by tourist barges that stop along riverside walkways near hotels, restaurants, and shops. Access to the remainder of the River Walk is along hiking and biking trails. The River Walk draws several million tourists a year, is ranked as one of the top travel destinations in Texas, and has inspired riverside developments throughout the world.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historic Market Square and The Alamo are the heart of River Walk tourism and for good reason. Fiesta, the city’s annual springtime festival is typically centered here every April. The extravaganza lasts over a week and is—at its core—a celebration of culture in the loudest, brightest, and most exuberant sense. The historic Battle of Flowers Parade, the main event, was established back in 1891 to honor the heroes who fought for Texas independence at The Alamo. The parade will commemorate its upcoming 130th anniversary in 2021. (San Antonio plans to have an abridged Fiesta celebration this year after canceling due to pandemic concerns in 2020.)

Tombstone Courthouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone Courthouse State Historic Site, Arizona

The rich history of Tombstone has been celebrated time and again by Hollywood because of the interesting characters and rough tendencies of this once thriving Arizona town. A well curated display at the courthouse gives visitors an insider look into the life and times of the Earp family and their exploits during their time in Tombstone. While in Tombstone, don’t forget to stop by the OK Corral, the site of a famous gun battle that helped shape the history of the town. 

Worth Pondering…

April is a promise that May is bound to keep.

—Hal Borland

10 National Parks to Visit during Wildflower Season

These parks are home to the country’s most vivid blooms from late March through August

Spring has sprung and brilliant pops of wildflowers are covering hillsides throughout the country—and, to no surprise, some of the best blooms are on display right in the heart of national parks. If you’re hoping to see them, it’s time to start planning.

We’ve rounded up the best national parks for wildflower lovers whether you’re an avid hiker or devout photographer focused on getting the perfect shot.

Before you head out, make sure to check local park and state travel restrictions and remember the principles of Leave No Trace: Do not pick or take home anything you find within protected park boundaries and always hike and take pictures from the main trail.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Lassen Volcanic offers spectacular opportunities for wildflower viewing from late May through September. Blooming times vary each year and are greatly affected by the winter’s snowpack. Blooming time also varies with each wildflower species. For example, mountain mules ear, snow plant, and western wallflower bloom earlier in the season while California corn lily and silverleaf lupine tend to bloom later.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

As one of the most biologically diverse national parks (the area boasts over 1,500 species of flowering plants), the Smokies come alive each spring with a colorful carpet of thyme-leaved bluets (four blue petals surrounding a yellow spot). Plus, as one of the lower elevation parks on this list, the blossoming season starts early. Peak bloom occurs from late March through July, with the park’s annual Wildflower Pilgrimage landing in mid-May. Make sure to check out the ¾-mile Cove Hardwood Nature Trail or push bigger miles and chase a couple of waterfalls on the Deep Creek Trail.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles National Park, California

Over 80 percent of the plants in Pinnacles are in bloom from March through May when afternoon temps hover between 65 to 78 degrees, perfect for hiking. Radiant orange bush poppies, playful monkeyflowers, and brilliant blue larkspur go on full display at this hidden gem in central California. The 2.4-mile Balconies Cliffs-Cave Loop is full of rainbow-hued blooms while the more strenuous 8.4-mile High Peaks-Balconies Loop tacks on the possibility of spotting an endangered California condor.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

In addition to abundant wildlife, there are no fewer than 860 species of wildflowers in Shenandoah National Park, about 20 percent of which are aster species. Other common Shenandoah wildflowers include lilies, flowers of the pea family, mint, and mustard.

Simply put, wildflowers thrive in Shenandoah which is one of the best places to see national parks wildflowers. This enormous diversity is especially noticeable in spring at the park’s lower elevations along South River and Rose River which are two of the best waterfall hikes in Shenandoah. Through summer and fall, you can see wildflowers showing off their colors all along Skyline Drive and in Big Meadows.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Protecting areas of the Mojave and Colorado deserts, Joshua Tree National Park is spread out across various elevations. This, of course, comes with a huge variety of desert plants and wildflowers. The blooming season, however, depends greatly on winter precipitation and spring temperatures. Generally speaking, you’ll see the first wildflowera in the Pinto Basin as early as February and March. As the months go on, the colors creep upward to higher elevations. It’s not uncommon to still have abundant wildflowers as late as June in desert areas higher than 5,000 feet. Flowers to look for include desert paintbrush, beavertail cactus, Utah firecracker, Mojave aster, California barrel cactus, prickly pear cactus, and the Joshua trees themselves

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park, California

Due to its large range of elevations (1,360 to 14,505 feet), the blooming season in Sequoia is long and verdant with marigold fiddlenecks bursting in the foothills while corn lilies and paintbrush dot higher altitudes like Alta Meadow. April and May are best for spring wildflower hunting at lower elevations while the alpine environment really comes to life from July through August.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Wildflowers are common throughout Bryce Canyon, primarily growing in meadows or along trails. Many wildflowers in the park are adapted to the rocky soil including columbines and the Rocky Mountain paintbrush. Bryce Canyon wildflowers can be found in every color and range in size from tiny to almost three feet tall. They can be found at all elevations, flowering in the summer especially from May to July. A particularly interesting plant native to the area is the paintbrush several species of which can be found in Bryce Canyon including the Wyoming Paintbrush and Bryce Canyon Paintbrush.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

The high temperatures, limited rain, and drying winds of the desert can present a harsh environment for wildflowers. These unforgiving conditions make the abundance of Zion’s wildflowers seem even more spectacular set against a backdrop of towering sandstone cliffs.

In the early spring, many plants take advantage of the seasonal rains to flower and reproduce quickly before the precious water is gone. Zion’s many springs and seeps also provide micro-habitats where temperatures are cooler and water is available year round. Throughout the summer on the Weeping Rock, Emerald Pools, and Riverside Walk trails you may see “hanging gardens” where flowers cling to the cliff walls.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park is home to hundreds of flowering plants. There are approximately 650 herbaceous (having little or no woody stem) wildflowers in the park. Some of the common species displaying a white flower are the sacred datura, evening primrose, tidy fleabane, yarrow, baby white aster, and white violet. Some common yellow flowering wildflowers are broom snakeweed, yellow ragweed, Hooker’s primrose, and blanket flower. Red or orange flowered plants include the globe mallow, red columbine, penstemon, Indian paintbrush, and crimson monkeyflower. Pink and purple wildflowers include the Rocky Mountain bee plant, fleabane, Palmer lupine, Grand Canyon phacelia, and Rocky Mountain iris.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

Visitors to the Sonoran Desert are eager to view hillsides covered in flowers as they may have seen on postcards and calendars. Those famous photos are taken during years when rainfall, temperature, and timing are favorable. Since soils and terrain are also an important factor there is no way to predict any year’s bloom. Saguaro National Park has some flowers in bloom virtually every month of the year and visitors can expect to see at least three flowering seasons: Spring wildflower (March-April), cactus flower (April-May), and summer flower (June-September).

Worth Pondering…

To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

—William Blake

The Top 10 National Parks to Discover this Spring

Spring is the best time to visit some of America’s most beautiful national parks

Deserts ablaze with lupine and paintbrush, rivers surging with snowmelt, high meadows lush with columbine and alpine sunflower, elk and deer venturing out of their winter hideaways with new babies in tow are a few of the many reasons to make a springtime pilgrimage to one—or many—of America’s national parks. Here we highlight 10 national parks that are particularly special to visit this spring.

Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sequoia National Park, California

Spring is the perfect time to head to the national parks. One park that’s awesome in spring is Sequoia, home to some of the largest trees in the world. It offers a beautiful forest where you can camp, hike, and explore all the awesome nature around. It is home to General Sherman, the largest tree by volume which you can take a short hike see along with several other cool tree stops along the way.

Due to its large range of elevations (1,360 to 14,505 feet), the blooming season in Sequoia is long and verdant with marigold fiddlenecks bursting in the foothills while corn lilies and paintbrush dot higher altitudes like Alta Meadow. April and May are best for spring wildflower hunting at lower elevations while the alpine environment really comes to life from July through August. Sequoia is definitely one not to be missed in spring!

Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

For many, springtime offers an opportunity for a first trip of the year. And if you are just getting back out there, the last thing you want is a crowded park. This spring, avoid the crowds and visit Carlsbad Caverns National Park for a unique and exciting adventure.  This park allows visitors to explore a world over 700 feet below the earth’s surface. Famous for protecting the third and seventh largest cave chambers in the world, Carlsbad Caverns holds a total of 116 caves—offers rooms of limestone, stalagmites, stalactites, cave pearls, and underground lakes.

Spring is a great time to visit Carlsbad Caverns as the bat population makes its presence known. Seventeen species of bats live in the park and many are present in April and May including Mexican Free-tailed Bats who emerge from caves in groups flying up and counter-clockwise for three hours. It’s an incredible sight.

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee

Temperatures start to rise, flowers begin to bloom, and as the snow melts, hikers across the country begin to plan their first hikes of the season. Look no further than the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

With over 800 miles of trails, the park offers beauty everywhere you look. Trails are available for walking, hiking, and mountain biking and lead to other fun activities like fishing and camping. During spring, trails are surrounded by blooming wildflowers—over 1,660 varieties, more than any other national park in North America. A group of flowers known as spring ephemerals appear in early spring, flower, bear fruit, and die within a short two-month period. These flowers include trilliums, orchids, violets, and iris and will bloom during March and April.

Bryce Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon National Park is at its best in spring as there is a minimal chance of thunderstorms that are present in the other seasons. The beauty of this spot is unparalleled as it has the largest concentration of hoodoos in the world. Hoodoos are the beautiful, irregular, colorful rock columns you’ll see throughout the park. The main viewpoints are Sunrise Point, Sunset Point, Inspiration Point, and Bryce Point.

Wildflowers are common throughout Bryce Canyon, primarily growing in meadows or along trails. Many wildflowers in the park are adapted to the rocky soil including columbines and the Rocky Mountain paintbrush. Bryce Canyon wildflowers can be found in every color and range in size from tiny to almost three feet tall.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Few national parks strut their stuff as showily as Joshua Tree in spring when the park’s namesake trees send their enormous, space-age blossoms reaching for the sky. Those aren’t the only blooms, of course—visitors pour into the park to see the desert sands awash with colors so bright you’ll have trouble putting away your camera to explore.

But explore you must, because Joshua Tree’s otherworldly rock formations must be seen to be believed; there’s a reason Hollywood directors have set everything from westerns to sci-fi classics in these eerie landscapes. Joshua Tree can be accessed from two directions: Coachella Valley to the south and from the adjacent towns of Twentynine Palms and Joshua Tree to the north.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park, Utah

Photographers know to visit Arches National Park in spring when the ochre and vermillion formations of eroded sandstone appear more vivid by the surrounding greenery. Temperature is another reason to visit now as summer can be brutal in the southern Utah desert with temperatures heading north of 100 degrees starting in late May.

At just 80,000 acres, Arches is one of the most manageable of the southwestern red rock parks with its most popular features such as Delicate Arch, Double Arch, and the Windows Section accessible from the park’s main road. Temperatures in the spring are pleasant enough to make longer hikes like the 2-mile out-and-back to the rock towers of Park Avenue and the 7.2 Devils Garden Primitive Loop perfectly comfortable. For those who can’t get enough of red rock country, Canyonlands National Park, Arches’ larger but less-visited sister is just 40 minutes south of Moab.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

In Shenandoah National Park the spring bloom is not limited to the slopes and meadows but paints the forests with watercolors as well with azaleas, trilliums, and wild geraniums blanketing the forest floor. The earliest blooms tend to be along the lower-elevation valleys of the Rose, South, and Hughes rivers and along Mill Prong while May is peak time for pink azaleas and June sees the arrival of mountain laurel. Further south, head for Linville Falls or hike the Linville Gorge Trail to fully immerse yourself in nature’s rhododendron garden.

The spring bird migration brings its fans looking for scarlet tanagers, cerulean warblers, and other colorful transients along Pocosin Trail. The Passamaquoddy Trail and Lewis Mountain are other popular spots for flowers, birds, and wildlife.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Spring is waterfall season in Zion when the Virgin River roars through the canyon and seasonal tributaries tumble down the canyon walls. The famed Emerald Pools are a wonder at any time of year but in spring the misty 110 foot cascade widens into a curtain of water that catches the light in a halo of rainbows. More waterfalls plunge from the 1,000-foot walls of Parunuweap Canyon.

Hiking is ideal this time of year when temperatures are in the 70s and the ochre and crimson cliffs are particularly photogenic against the bright green foliage of freshly green cottonwoods.

Just north of St. George, don’t miss the lava flows and Snow Canyon State Park where you’ll see the desert painted with wildflowers like desert chickweed, buttercup, and sand verbena.

Theodore Roosevelt National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Theodore Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota

Yellowstone isn’t the only national park where you can watch baby bison wobble along on their spindly new legs; Theodore Roosevelt National Park is bison central, charged with the mission to protect one of America’s most beloved—and most hunted—species from going extinct.

In addition to bison and other wildlife sightings the park celebrates all aspects of prairie life including the prairie crocus, abundant across these high plains just after snowmelt. And don’t forget the prairie dog—these highly social animals have their own gigantic “town” sprawling across acres of the park where they pop from their burrows to look curiously at visitors and call to their neighbors with dog-like barks. Late May and early June is when prairie dog babies first come out to play in the springtime sun.

Saguaro in bloom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

The cactus that gives Saguaro National Park its name has long been recognized as a symbol of American West but these giant plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. They are more than massive cacti but also shelters and reserves of water for much of the wildlife that calls this park home. And what season do these giant centerpieces bloom? You guessed it: spring!

Springtime brings with it the beauty of flowers. Deserts and saguaro forests burst with colors from blooming wildflowers like the gold Mexican poppy, red penstemons, and desert marigolds. Even trees, shrubs, and other cacti are in bloom including creosote bushes, chollas, and hedgehogs.

Bottom line

You’ll find plenty of the three W’s—wildflowers, wildlife, and water—when you visit these national parks in spring.

Worth Pondering…

To see a world in a grain of sand and a heaven in a wildflower hold infinity in the palm of your hand and eternity in an hour.

—William Blake

Best Places for RV Travel this April

April is an amazing month for RV travel

With COVID-19 (Coronavirus) everyone’s lives—yours and ours—were thrown into a scrambled state of flux. Someday, we’ll all be ready to pack the RV again and head out on our next adventure. In the meantime, here’s some inspiration for the future.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like the previous month, April was a victim of calendar shifting by the Romans. April was supposed to be the second month on the calendar after March, because after all, Aprillis is a derivative of the Latin base word apero- which means second. April was celebrated as the second month of the year, whereas now it’s the fourth month and is seen as the real beginning of spring in the U.S.

Corpus Christi, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Could April be the best of all worlds? Summer comes early to Arizona. It’s also the best time of year to catch some bona fide bucket-list natural wonders from the Grand Canyon to the Petrified Forest. Simply put: there’s an RV destination for you, no matter your jam.

Venice, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV trip for a different time of year? Check out our monthly travel recommendations for the best places to travel in January, February, and March. Also check out our recommendations from April 2019.

South Carolina

Great Swamp Sanctuary, Waterboro, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Carolina begins as a wall of mountains on its western border as the Southern Appalachians rise dramatically from the piedmont below. The terrain mellows into river valleys as it moves east until it hits the coast and becomes wild again with untouched barrier islands, sandy beaches, and rough surf coming in from the Atlantic Ocean. Water sports obviously dominate the coastal scene with untold miles of brackish rivers to paddle while the mountains have become a hotbed of cycling and hiking.

Texas

Davis Mountains of West Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring is a lovely time of year in Texas. The weather is not yet too intensely hot, the skies are blue and clear, and things start to move outdoors—festivals, gigs, parties, eating, and drinking. The weather in Marfa, out in the High Texan Desert, is just right for walking the many miles around Donald Judd’s large-scale installations and land art out under the desert sun (at this time of year, not too harsh), and just right too for staying in a vintage van or airstream at El Cosmico.

Florida

Seaside, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winter-sun state is wonderful in spring and autumn. It’s one of the best places to go on holiday in April for beach breaks or outdoor adventures with long sunny days and warm-but-not-hot weather—just right for tailing alligators through the mangroves or galloping around a cattle ranch, cruising around Miami’s art district or having a classic family beach holiday on the Gulf of Mexico.

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is magic! Skagit Valley Farmers invite visitors to take a scenic drive through the valley and experience the art of farming during the month-long Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Tulips have been farmed here since the early 1900s and today, over a million bulbs are planted at RoozenGaarde and Tulip Town alone. The Magic Skagit Valley’s natural wonders also include shorelines, bays, islands, mountains, the Skagit River and one of the largest and most diverse agricultural communities west of the Cascade mountain range.

Grand Canyon

Grand Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Grand Canyon National Park is America’s most spectacular landscape, a 277-mile long, 5,000 foot deep kaleidoscopic gorge of the Colorado River that cuts through the high desert plains of Arizona like a golden knife. Written into these sheer cliffs is one of the most complete geological records on the planet—nearly two billion years of the earth’s history etched into stone from the Kaibab Limestone laid down at its summit 260 million years ago to the 1.8-billion-year-old Vishnu Schist at its base. Studying the rocks, layer by layer, you can almost see desert become swamp, oceans advance and retreat, and mountains rise and fall again. It’s like looking at time itself.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Who knew petrified wood could be so beautiful? While you might think the Grand Canyon is the only stunning place in Arizona, this spot will prove you wrong. Petrified Forest National Park is a unique preserve where you can enjoy a number of breathtaking views. The park is full of colorful badlands and is a great place to go backpacking or simply enjoy a day hike.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Repeatedly hailed America’s most charming and friendliest city, this Southern Belle offers cobbled streets and horse-drawn carriages. And springtime is the perfect moment before steamy summer envelops the Deep South. Try jazz-club-hopping in the French Quarter, slurp fresh oysters on the seafront, and don’t miss the colorful Georgians of Rainbow Row. Better still, April’s annual Festival of Houses and Gardens invites you inside some of the city’s most incredible antebellum homes. Go have a snoop.

Worth Pondering…

Spring is the time of the year when it is summer in the sun and winter in the shade.
—Charles Dickens, Great Expectations 

Take a Break from Spring Training with these 5 great Road Trips

Your ultimate Spring Training road trip travel guide

The Phoenix area transforms into baseball-fan heaven this month with spring training underway as players prepare for the 2020 Major League Baseball season. Visitors can attend more than 200 Cactus League baseball games.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you need to take a break from the stands, consider a side trip out of town. Here are four worthwhile Arizona destinations that can be reached from the Phoenix area in less than three hours and one that’s somewhat further afield.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail, named for Native Americans who used it, served as a stagecoach route through the rugged Superstition Mountains. Day trippers can enjoy the scenery on paved roads if they mosey five miles up Arizona 88 from Apache Junction to Goldfield Ghost Town, a restored 1890s mining town. It re-creates the era through its attractions including a mine tour, narrow-gauge railroad, and a zip-line ride.

Goldfield Ghost Town © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you drive 13 miles northeast on Arizona 88, you’ll find Tortilla Flat, an old stagecoach stop that’s now a saloon that uses saddles for its bar-stool seats. Visitors can take a scenic cruise on nearby Canyon Lake aboard the Dolly Steamboat. The captain will point out bighorn sheep grazing on the hillsides and bald eagles soaring above.

Distance from Phoenix: 35 miles

Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On paper, Picacho Peak isn’t very impressive. It’s hardly the highest peak in Arizona. In fact, based on a U.S. Geological Survey search, there are at least 2,500 other summits ahead of Picacho. Nevertheless, it’s a peak worth bagging, if for no other reason than to conquer the most recognizable landmark between Phoenix and Tucson.

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hunter Trail is one of five routes to the top. With your first step from the trailhead, you’ll start a gradual climb up a rocky slope dotted with saguaros, creosote bushes, and paloverde trees. This time of year, you’ll see wildflowers, too, including Mexican goldpoppies, lupines, globemallows, desert chicory, and brittlebush.

Distance from Phoenix: 75 miles

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you haven’t checked out Boyce Thompson Arboretum, a 392-acre state park near Superior (it’s only about an hour’s drive east of Phoenix near Superior), you should. Featured are plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you take a hike through Boyce Thompson, it’s easy to forget you’re in the middle of a desert. You can explore tree-lined paths, a man-made lake, and a mountainous desert landscape all without leaving the Main Trail. Along the side trails visitors can also get glimpses of life in the historic Southwest.

Distance from Phoenix: 55 miles

Prescott

Watson Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An hour and a half north of Phoenix, Watson Lake sparkles amid Prescott’s Granite Dells, an exotic collection of massive boulders that rise directly from the water and adorn the shoreline. Watson Lake Park is a good starting point for exploration of this North Central Arizona city. The park includes picnic tables, horseshoe pits, playground equipment, and hiking trails.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mile-high city, Prescott is nestled in the Ponderosa Pines of Prescott National Forest. Fill your lungs with that amazing pine scent as you enjoy Prescott’s natural surroundings, including more than 400 miles of hiking, mountain biking, and equestrian trails.

Distance from Phoenix: 100 miles

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the 1800s, Navajo clans sought refuge from U.S. soldiers in the distant reaches of Canyon de Chelly. The canyon, in northeastern Arizona, is deep, remote, and beautiful. Pueblo ruins still stand under red cliffs while modern-day Navajos farm the bottomlands along shallow creeks.

White House Ruins, Canyon de Chelly © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors can drive along the canyon rims and stop at overlooks or take a hike to White House Ruin but tours into the canyon led by Navajo guides give a better understanding of its past and present. Tour options include hiking, horseback rides, and four-wheel-drive vehicles.

Distance from Phoenix: 310 miles

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

6 Road Trips to Take in 2020

If 2020 is your year for exploring we have some amazing road trip ideas for you

If you read this article you certainly have more than a passing interest in the RV lifestyle. That’s why one of my goals each day is to so equip you. I want you to be the smartest camping person in the park. So if they ask you today what in the h-e-double-hockey-sticks is going on, just tell them this.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a new adventure to embark on in 2020? Then look no further because these are our top road trips to add to your RV travel itinerary.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s something on this list for everyone. All you need to do is pack up the RV, get comfortable, and enjoy the magnificent sights that await you round every bend in the road. These journeys range from a few hours to a few days and can easily be customized to suit your road trip desires.

Scenic Byway 12, Utah

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deservedly recognized as an All-American Road, the 123 miles of Scenic Byway 12 highlight Utah’s sheer diversity of natural wonders introducing visitors to the photogenic landscapes of Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Scenic Byway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Scenic Byway 12 begins near Panguitch where you’ll drive beneath two crimson-colored sandstone arches and ends in Torrey, a blissful spot that offers ample opportunity for outdoor recreation.

Apache Trail, Arizona

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this winding 41.5-mile road, just off U.S. Highway 60 near Mesa, designate a driver to keep their eyes on curves and hairpin turns while passengers “ooh” and “ahh” over the lakes, mountains, and canyons in Tonto National Forest’s wilderness areas.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Part paved and part well-graded gravel, Arizona Highway 88 was an old stagecoach route that shuttled in supplies for Roosevelt Dam’s construction in the early 1900s. It begins near Goldfield Ghost Town, a re-created Wild West town, complete with gunslingers. Due to its narrow width and tight turns, this route is not recommended for larger vehicles including RVs.

Creole Nature Trail, Louisiana

Creole Nature Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Life is everywhere along the Creole Nature Trail. Birds, mammals, fish, crabs, and alligators make their home in the four wildlife refuges that can be found along the 180 mile-long byways that make up the Trail. You can do the trail in a day if you just do the walking trails and go to the different wildlife refuges, take pictures, enjoy nature, and have a beautiful sunset. You can literally spend as much or as little time as you want.

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sitting at the north end of the western leg of the trail, Adventure Point is the place to become acclimated to natural wonders of the Trail—and learn what to look for and where to find it once out in “Louisiana’s Outback.”

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia and North Carolina

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other: a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. The 469 miles of America’s Favorite Drive links Shenandoah National Park in Virginia with Great Smoky Mountains National Park that straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the use of the milepost system (the numbers increase as you drive south), you can easily find points of interest along the way (don’t rely on GPS here). Take it slow and stop at the many overlooks to enjoy the views.

Charleston to Savannah, South Carolina and Georgia

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lined with massive oak trees that drip with Spanish moss and elegant antebellum plantations, the two-hour drive between two of America’s favorite southern cities make for an amazing road trip. Stroll the charming cobblestone streets of Charleston and wander past secluded gardens and historic buildings that boast intricate iron wrought balconies.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Explore the Historic District by horse-drawn carriage in Savannah and embark on leisurely strolls along the Savannah River. Shop and indulge in the regional cuisine on River Street where historic cotton warehouses have been converted into trendy boutiques and restaurants.

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway is a 43-mile National Scenic Byway that connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina. Opened and dedicated in fall of 1996, this highway starts at 800 feet in elevation and climbs over mountains as high as 5,390 feet at Santeetlah Overlook on the state border.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. It is a 2-laned road with wide shoulders and 15 scenic overlooks.

Worth Pondering…

The journey and not the destination is the joy of RVing.