9 Beautiful Places to Escape the Summer Heat

It’s hotter than blue blazes!

It’s been a long, hot summer—and it’s likely to just keep getting hotter. That jug of fresh iced tea isn’t meant to be sipped inside with the shades drawn and that blow-up kiddie pool you’ve outgrown doesn’t have to be your only means of summer heat relief. Because I have good news! There are quite a few places you can go to escape the heat—and none of them involve jetting to the Southern Hemisphere.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Historical weather data shows the five coolest summer states also happen to be filled with excellent RV camping destinations, too. The five best places to stay cool in summer are Oregon, Washington, California, Colorado, and Alaska. These cool summer states are geographically immense. Each state gives you tons of camping choices from busy national parks to remote coastal and mountain destinations.

RV owners like us are lucky. Finding the coolest camping destinations in the summer is pretty easy. With a full tank of fuel and one turn of the key, our homes on wheels carry everything we need for a summer escape away from hot spots to a cool river, mountaintop, or breezy beach. Most of us will put in a few hours of driving to reach the coolest place to camp in August.

Glacial Skywalk, Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cool off with a trip to the mountains, the water, or up north. I’ve hand-selected nine places where you can beat the heat this summer while avoiding airport woes such as lost luggage, canceled flights, tarmac delays, and labor shortages—you know, all of the fun things people are dealing with right now not to mention the heightened cost of air travel.

Mountains

Higher elevations provide sweet relief from the sweltering heat and humidity of summer. Here are three wonderful mountainous locales where you can escape the heat.

On the road to Mount Lemmon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Lemmon, Arizona 

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

Get more tips for visiting Mount Lemmon

Lassen Volcanic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, California and Oregon

For truly unusual and spectacular views, pack up the RV and head for the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway connecting California’s Lassen National Park with Crater Lake in Oregon. The north-to-south route covers about 500 miles tracing along geological formations created by volcanic activity of the Cascade Mountain Range.

The drive ventures through the majestic Shasta Valley and offers unobstructed vistas of Mount Shasta, the second tallest volcano in the country. There are countless things to see and do during a visit, but don’t miss Petroglyph Point, one of the country’s largest and most accessible panels of Native American rock art.

Get more tips for visiting Lassen Volcanic National Park

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Stowe is a Vermont Ski town that is lovely to visit in summer thanks to an Alpine setting that doesn’t get too hot and lots of outdoor activities. For fun summer hiking, choose trails that lead to waterfalls like the easy Bingham Falls Trail in Smugglers Notch State Park or Moss Glen Falls trail in nearby Putnam State Park.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want a lazy day, head out of town and stop by Cold Hollow Cider Mill for a good picnic— sandwiches with Vermont cheddar cheese and hard and soft cider. Take your lunch to nearby Waterbury Center State Park on the Waterbury Reservoir. 

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the Trapp Family Lodge (yes, those Von Trapps). In addition to its hiking and mountain biking trails, the Alpine resort offers tennis, rock-wall climbing, swimming pools, and more. They brew their excellent Austrian-style beer in their bierhall where you can dine without staying at the lodge.

Get more tips for visiting Vermont

Near Water

When it’s hot outside we all want to be near a lake, river, or ocean destination. Here are three fabulous destinations to beat the heat near the water.

Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cumberland Island, Georgia

Are you ready to hit the beach without the crowds? Where you can find a piece of the coast to call your own? Cumberland Island is Georgia’s southernmost island and a place where you can truly get away from the modern world. With no bridge to come to Cumberland Island travelers have to use a ferry or private boat to get to this beautiful place which is managed by the national park service. 

Cumberland Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although Georgia’s Atlantic coastline is only about 100 miles long, the Peach State is home to 30 percent of the barrier islands along the Atlantic Seaboard. And Cumberland is the largest and fairest of them all with the longest expanse of the pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket list destination.

Get more tips for visiting Cumberland Island

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee is the largest lake in New Hampshire located in the Lakes Region. It is approximately 21 miles long (northwest-southeast) and from 1 to 9 miles wide (northeast-southwest) covering 69 square miles—71 square miles when Paugus Bay is included—with a maximum depth of 180 feet. The center area of the lake is called The Broads.

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The lake contains at least 264 islands, half of which are less than a quarter-acre in size, and is indented by several peninsulas yielding a total shoreline of approximately 288 miles. The driving distance around the lake is 63 miles. It is 504 feet above sea level. Winnipesaukee is the third-largest lake in New England after Lake Champlain and Moosehead Lake. Outflow is regulated by the Lakeport Dam in Lakeport, New Hampshire, on the Winnipesaukee River.

Experience the beauty of Lake Winnipesaukee during a narrated scenic tour aboard the historic M/S Mount Washington. Learn about the history of the region and local folklore surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in New England.

Get more tips for visiting Lake Winnipesaukee

La Conner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Conner, Washington

La Conner is one of those places that people love to visit—time and time again. The reasons are many but one that stands out is that there are so many things to do in—and around—La Conner. A waterfront village in northwestern Washington, La Conner is nestled beside the Swinomish Channel near the mouth of the Skagit River. La Conner is a unique combination of a fishing village, artists’ colony, eclectic shops, historic buildings, and tourist destination. Relax by the water, enjoy fine restaurants, and browse through unique shops and art galleries.

Get more tips for visiting La Conner

Northern States and Canada

When the going gets hot, the hot head up north! Here are three great northern destinations that put plenty of space between you and the equator.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is at the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores. Everything from wine to cheese to chocolate, art, and fine dining.

Get more tips for visiting Jacksonville

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banff and Jasper National Parks, Alberta

If you Google “Canada nature,” you’ll see pictures of Banff National Park in the Rockies—and for good reason. Canada’s oldest and most popular national park is Mother Nature’s best. Anywhere you look, there are jagged peaks sprinkled with fluffy powder, bluer than blue glacial lakes, and majestic wildlife.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After visiting Banff, take the Icefields Parkway—one of the world’s most scenic drives with more than 100 ancient glaciers—north to Jasper. One of Canada’s prettiest and wildest national parks, Jasper is massive at 4,247 square miles, making it the largest national park in the Canadian Rockies. And it’s a great place to spot wildlife including black and grizzly bears, elk and moose, and big horn sheep and Rocky Mountain goats.

Get more tips for visiting Canada’s Mountain Parks

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray, British Columbia

Wells Gray is not as highly acclaimed as Mount Robson or the national parks in the Canadian Rockies. And having been there, I have no idea why. I mean… this place is awesome!

Wells Gray Provincial Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wells Gray has something to offer every outdoor interest: lush alpine meadows, excellent birding and wildlife viewing opportunities, hiking, boating, canoeing, and kayaking. Guiding businesses offer horseback riding, canoeing, whitewater rafting, fishing, and hiking. The history enthusiast can learn about the early homesteaders, trappers, and prospectors or about the natural forces that produced Wells Gray’s many volcanoes, waterfalls, mineral springs, and glaciers.

Many people head to Wells Gray for the lakes but there are also over 40 named waterfalls in the park. Many of them are in remote corners of the park but eight of them are easy to reach from Clearwater Valley Road.

Get more tips for visiting Wells Gray

Your summer vacation does not have to be hiding indoors in front of the air conditioner trying to stay cool from high temperatures or unbearable humidity. There are lots of places where you can enjoy beautiful pleasant temperatures while spending time outside. Whether you prefer cities, towns, or national or state parks, mild summer weather is available in many spectacular destinations.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.

—Walter Winchell

America’s Fall Foliage: Leafing through America

The real party here is the #foliage

At first glance, the sea of yellow, orange, red, and brown might seem like a random medley of colors…but it’s not. When chlorophyll abandons a tree in the autumn, it leaves behind a mix of other pigments that are distinct from one species to the next.

The sugar maple which rules the fall foliage world in North America glows a brilliant orange. Dogwoods turn reddish-purple. Beech and hickory trees get their yellow on as does aspen. And oak leaves—well, most of the poor fellows fade to brown before they become raking fodder.

I like to think of it as each tree leaving its individual signature on nature’s canvas before retiring for the winter.

Related: Leafy Scenes: 12 of the Best Road Trips for Viewing Fall Foliage

Fall is upon us. Gather your favorite road trip tunes, pack your camera, and consider one of these majestic drives to behold the dazzling shades of fall foliage from deep crimson to electric yellow. 

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive offers leaf peepers amazing autumn views

Who’s up for some leaf-peeping? If you haven’t traveled Skyline Drive in the fall, you may want to add it to your bucket list. The 105-mile National Scenic Byway runs the entire length of Shenandoah National Park along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia. For over 75 years, the two-lane road has offered travelers the opportunity to view many scenic vistas.

Skyline Drive’s northern terminus is at an intersection with U.S. Route 340 near Front Royal and the southern terminus is at an interchange with US-250 near I-64 in Rockfish Gap where the road continues south as the Blue Ridge Parkway. Snap-happy tourists can capture the beauty of Shenandoah’s fall foliage while they stretch their legs at one of 70 overlooks.

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive is buzzing with activity when Shenandoah’s trees exchange leaves of green for reds, oranges, and yellows. To avoid crowds, tourists are encouraged to visit on a weekday. Unless leaf peepers get caught in heavy traffic on fall foliage weekends, the entire length of Skyline Drive can be traveled in about three hours without stopping but why would you. The only public road through Shenandoah National Park is generally open 24 hours a day, seven days a week unless there is inclement weather.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway Festival set for tomorrow in Tellico Plains

The Charles Hall Museum & Heritage Center is gearing up for its fifth annual Cherohala Skyway Festival scheduled for Saturday, October 23, 2021, at the museum and its grounds. This year’s event commemorates the 25th anniversary of the completion of the Cherohala Skyway.

A professionally-directed video, “Highway To The Sky,” will play all day in Building 2’s meeting room. The seven-minute video offers footage and photos of the early Tellico Plains-North Carolina wagon trains along with the construction and completion of the Cherohala Skyway.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway Festival will feature some bluegrass musicians and groups. The Mountain Music String Band will kick off the entertainment. In addition to mountain music, there will be a variety of free activities to entertain children including a meet and greet with the Team Lexi princesses and princes, barrel train rides, a petting zoo, crafts and other activities, and Cherokee games. All ages can also enjoy free horse-drawn wagon rides with hayrides pulled by Mahindra tractors throughout the day.

Related: Stunning Fall Drives across America

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The festival will also feature crafters and artists displaying many products from photography, painting, jewelry, leather, ceramics, quilting, needlework, and woodwork. All items are handmade or hand-decorated or designed.

During the festival, guests will be able to satisfy their appetite with southern specialties such as the Pork Palace’s pulled pork plates and fried ‘tater bowls. A&A Meat Co. will fry up a thick slice of bologna on grilled Texas toast with grilled onions and grilled cheese sandwiches. Slim’s Burger Joint will offer hamburgers with all the southern fixins’ including crinkle-style French fries.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dessert choices include funnel cakes, kettle corn, popcorn, homemade pork rinds, caramel apples, cotton candy, mini bundt cakes, ice cones, soft-serve ice cream, and a wide variety of baked goods from the Tellico Plains Public Library’s bake sale.

Following the festival experience the mountain and river valley sights by driving the Cherohala Skyway, a national scenic byway and the gateway to the Cherokee National Forest, or by visiting the 90-feet Bald River Falls, during peak fall color season,

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Fall is an incredible time to visit Zion National Park. As temperatures cool, it’s the perfect time for a hiking adventure. Also, the crowds are much smaller compared to summer and the park looks stunning as beautiful red, yellow, and orange leaves add so much color to its rugged desert landscape.

Though the climate in Zion National Park is incredibly arid, many trees thrive in the park. Evergreen white pines, ponderosa pines, and Douglas fir are mixed with golden aspens, crimson maples, copper oaks, and yellow cottonwoods. During the fall months, red and gold accents brighten the desert landscapes creating numerous opportunities for nature photographers.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get the big picture of the fall in Zion, take the easy one-mile Canyon Overlook Trail east of the Zion-Mt. Carmel Tunnel. The views of Zion Canyon from far above will take your breath away. A one-hour trail is perfect for families and those who are not ready for long strenuous hikes.

Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Virgin River is another excellent location to spot fall foliage. Hikers can start on the 2.2 mile Riverside Walk which is paved and comfortable. From there you can take the scenic Emerald Pools Trail which is especially rich with deciduous trees. A more challenging option is to walk on the river bed from the Temple of Sinawava shuttle station in the opposite direction for several miles. This way you can reach Zion Narrows, a beautiful slot canyon, which looks even better with colorful trees. If you are ready to challenge yourself, even more, take the 5.4-mile Angels Landing hike which offers views down into the canyon from a staggering height of 1,500 feet.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Little of Austria. . . a Lot of Vermont!

One of my favorite places in the Green Mountain State is the town of Stowe. If you’re driving to Stowe from I-89 you will exit off the Interstate and pass through Waterbury and Waterbury Center. Don’t miss Ben & Jerry’s along the way. A little further up the road in Waterbury Center is the Cold Hollow Cider Mill. You should definitely plan a stop to Cold Hollow for some fresh apple cider and the freshly made, delicious cider donuts.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe’s Main Street features a number of small stores, restaurants, and of course the subject of many scenic photos and artwork—the Stowe Community Church.

Related: Central Vermont: Montpelier, Burlington & Barre

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make a trip up the Mountain Road to the Trapp Family Lodge, a unique mountain resort featuring Austrian-inspired architecture and European-style accommodations. The Lodge offers stunning mountain views along with activities for every season.

Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the early 1940s, the von Trapp family toured the United States as the Trapp Family Singers before eventually settling in Stowe on an enchanted farm with sweeping mountain vistas reminiscent of their beloved Austria. In the summer of 1950, they began welcoming guests to a rustic, 27-room family home/lodge. After a devastating fire in 1980, the original structure was replaced by the new Trapp Family Lodge, a picturesque 96-room alpine lodge situated on 2,500 acres offering magnificent indoor and outdoor resort amenities. The entire property is owned and operated by the von Trapp family. You can learn all about the von Trapp family history by taking a tour while at the resort.

Worth Pondering…

Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking the successive autumns.

—George Eliot

10 Amazing Places to RV in September

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

Now that September is here, many RVers are looking to extend their summer fun as long as they can. Summer may officially end on September 23 but your vacation season is far from over. Whatever your September plans—quick trips, long weekends, a staycation, sitting by the pool, or one last big journey—we have gathered some great destinations and road trips to help you enjoy the season. Summer is calling . . . still!

September is the unsung hero of travel months: The busiest vacation season has come and gone and places are less crowded because kids are back in school. It’s the perfect time to pay a visit to locations that are usually swarming with tourists and enjoy some serious natural beauty, luxury RV resorts, outdoor adventures, and a few glasses of wine. So what are you waiting for? Here are the 10 best places to travel in September, from Vermont to San Antonio.

It’s almost autumn and if you didn’t join the summer rush back to traveling it’s time to think about September when things calm down a bit. Crisp temperatures, fall colors, and fresh mountain air make Stowe, Vermont and the Blue Ridge Parkway perfect destinations where you can enjoy the scenery, hiking, and apple cider.

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

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

This classic New England village is known for skiing but it’s also one of the best places in the country to see stunning fall foliage. From early September through late October, the weather and colorful backdrop are perfect for outdoor activities like hiking, mountain biking, fishing, and scenic drives.

Zig and zag your way to the summit ridge of Mount Mansfield—Vermont’s highest mountain—along the historic Toll Road where stunning views of Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains await you. The road up Mount Mansfield is 4.5 miles of awe-inspiring natural beauty. You can park at 3,850 feet, relax and take it all in. RVs are not permitted on the toll road.

Or get on top of autumn splendor the easy way—in the refurbished Stowe Gondola SkyRide. From the top of Mount Mansfield, you can access hiking trails and a sweet treat at The Waffle. The Gondola SkyRide is open through October 17. And plan ahead for the Stowe Foliage Arts Festival in early October (38th annual; October 8-10, 2021).

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy a Scenic Drive along the Blue Ridge Parkway

America’s Favorite Scenic Drive winds its way through North Carolina and Virginia. The 469-mile-long Blue Ridge Parkway connects Shenandoah National Park to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There are numerous entry points to the parkway (which is free to access) in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina but if you want to admire some of the highest peaks east of the Mississippi River you’ll want to traverse the parkway near Asheville.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Popular stops along the parkway include Craggy Gardens (known for its 360-degree views and abundance of wildflowers), Mount Mitchell (the highest peak in the eastern United States), and Linville Falls (a three-tiered waterfall that cascades into the Linville Gorge). When you’re ready to stretch your legs, there are multiple hiking trails easily accessed off of the parkway including the family-friendly Graveyard Fields. This nearly 3-mile-long loop trail takes hikers to two waterfalls. If you’re up for the challenge there’s also the more strenuous 2.6-mile out and back Mount Pisgah Trail which features views of Cold Mountain from its 5,721-foot summit.

Sugar cane harvesting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hi Sugar!

Louisiana Sugar Cane Festival: The sweetest time of year! The annual Hi Sugar festival in September in New Iberia is the place to be to satisfy your inner sweet tooth and child-like sugary desires. Offering a rich history of the sugar found in the area, entertainment, and lots of sugar-filled treats, you’ll soak up a sweet time! 

What could be more fitting a cause for celebration than the tall, green, sweet sugar cane? And so it is that the last full weekend of September (79th annual; September 23-26, 2021) as the growth of the succulent sugar cane reaches its pinnacle, New Iberia hosts the twenty-four sugar producing parishes of Louisiana.

Sugar cane harvesting © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To the Jesuit Fathers goes the distinction of introducing sugar cane to Louisiana. Because of its rapid growth due to the semi-tropical climate and the ingenuity of a young Frenchman, Etienne De Bore who discovered the secret of granulated sugar, the economy of South Louisiana changed and the era of large plantations came into existence.

At the conclusion of a successful harvest, the planters rejoiced with a celebration called “apres la roulaison”, meaning to grind or to roll as in crushing the cane to extract the juices. In its infancy, the festival took place “after grinding” and although the celebration now comes at the end of September, the spirit of the occasion is the same…one of thanksgiving and joyful anticipation of fun-filled, carefree days.

Ripe chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile Capital of the World

It’s been 100 years since horticulturist Fabián García publicly introduced his hybrid chile, “New Mexico No. 9,” the grandmother of all New Mexican chile peppers today. To pay homage, consider a visit to Hatch, a small agricultural village in southern New Mexico known as the “Chile Capital of the World.” The oh-so-flavorful Hatch pepper is named after Hatch Valley where the bulk of Hatch peppers are grown. This is thanks to its unique terroir which includes fertile volcanic soil.

As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of their world-famous crop. Despite the town’s tiny size, Hatch swells to more than 30,000 people during the two-day celebration. The event features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, and a carnival. This year marks 50 years since the festival’s inception. The pandemic thwarted last year’s celebration making the 2021 gathering extra-special.

Chile ristras © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scent of roasting chiles permeates the air in late summer and early fall along Hall Street, Hatch’s main thoroughfare where mom-and-pop shops sell chile peppers in all forms. Ristras—decorative dried chile pods that are both edible and a good luck symbol—hang on the patios and in doorways of places like Chile Fanatic and Hatch Chile Sales beckoning visitors to shop for chile powder, salsas, and ristras of their own.

Red chiles © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chile peppers keep their star status when it comes to dining, as well. For a quarter of a century, the family-owned Pepper Pot has been serving up Mexican American dishes like green chile stew and red chile enchiladas (a favorite of late food personality, Anthony Bourdain, who said that their red enchiladas were the best ever). Then there’s Sparky’s, a roadside eatery and attraction that’s known as much for the fiberglass statues dotting its rooftop and lining the street (including Ronald McDonald, Yogi Bear, a Roswell-inspired green alien, and a towering Uncle Sam) as it is for its cuisine. Sparky’s green chile cheeseburgers are a talked-about phenomenon though this beloved counter-service spot also whips up the wood-fired barbeque, espresso drinks, and a wide array of shakes.

Hatch is just nine miles north of the entrance to Spaceport America, the first purpose-built commercial spaceport on the planet and testing grounds for Virgin Galactic’s human spaceflights. Final Frontier Tours offers private pre-scheduled tours of the facility, including the chance to experience a rapidly accelerating G-shock simulator, comparable to what astronauts feel in flight.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Port Aransas, Texas

With 18 miles of beaches, Port Aransas, located on Mustang Island on the Gulf Coast, is a haven for anglers and beachgoers. Fishermen can cast a line from the surf, a public fishing pier, or take an off-shore excursion for various fish species. If you visit in the summer, you’re bound to see a fishing tournament or you can try surfing, kayaking, or kiteboarding with a local guide. Visit Farley Boat Works to partake in building a boat or head out on a bird-watching expedition—Port Aransas has six sites along the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail with hundreds of bird species frequenting the area. The arts community here is also thriving with numerous studios, galleries, the Port Aransas Art Center, and the Port Aransas Community Theatre. Nightlife is also popular, with numerous bars and restaurants regularly hosting artists.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Feel the Thunder

Custer State Park in the beautiful Black Hills of western South Dakota is famous for its bison herds, other wildlife, scenic drives, historic sites, visitor centers, fishing lakes, resorts, campgrounds, and interpretive programs. In fact, it was named as one of the World’s Top Ten Wildlife Destinations for the array of wildlife within the park’s borders and for the unbelievable access visitors have to them. The bison wander the park’s 71,000 acres of mountains, hills, and prairie which they share with a wealth of wildlife including pronghorn antelope, elk, white-tailed and mule deer, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, coyotes, wild turkeys, a band of burros, and whole towns of adorable prairie dogs.

Buffalo Roundup © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit the last Friday in September and feel the thunder and join the herd at the annual Custer State Park Buffalo Roundup (September 24, 2021). Watch cowboys and cowgirls as they round up and drive the herd of approximately 1,300 buffalo. Not only is the roundup a spectacular sight to see, it is also a critical management tool in maintaining a strong and healthy herd.

Marshes of Glynn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

St. Simons, Georgia

The largest barrier island in the Golden Isles, St. Simons Island lies across the immortalized Marshes of Glynn made famous by poet Sidney Lanier. Moss-draped oaks line the winding island streets creating a picture-perfect image worthy of a Faulkner tale.

St. Simons Island is dotted with exceptional historic sites and attractions from the St. Simons Lighthouse Museum—a working lighthouse built in 1872—to the Bloody Marsh Battle Site where in July 1742, British and Scottish soldiers protecting colonial Georgia defeated a larger Spanish force in a battle that helped end Spanish incursions outside Florida.

Fort Frederica National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the island’s north end, Cannon’s Point Preserve contains middens dating back to 2500 BC. Fort Frederica National Monument which preserves archeological remnants of the local British colony and its defense against Spain and historic Christ Church, Frederica—one of the oldest churches in Georgia with worship held continuously since 1736—is also located on the island’s north end. History buff or not, you won’t want to miss Christ Church’s picturesque and somewhat haunting grounds.

Hummingbird at Paton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Watch hummingbirds in Patagonia

The Paton Center for Hummingbirds was closed due to the pandemic but has since reopened.

This birding hotspot captures the laidback charm of Patagonia. The Patons put out backyard feeders in the 1970s and hummingbirds swarmed the property. The family soon began welcoming strangers who came to enjoy the colorful show. After Marion Paton died in 2009, neighbors kept the feeders stocked until 2014 when the Tucson Audubon Society took over.

Vermillion flycatcher at the Patton Center for Hummingbirds © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The place hasn’t changed much over the years. There are chairs beneath a shade awning and a big board to list recent sightings. Folks have come from all over the world just to sit quietly in a small Arizona yard and watch clouds of hummingbirds. Hummingbird visitors to the Paton Yard are at their highest numbers during spring (March-May) and fall (August-October) migrations. They also have many breeding hummingbird species throughout the summer. In the winter, hummingbird numbers are lower but you may still find rare species such as the Violet-crowned Hummingbird.

It’s a lovely carefree way to spend an hour and I hope to get to do it again soon.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville’s River Walk

Greenville’s recent history is defined by a series of game-changing public access initiatives beginning with the formation of Falls Park on the Reedy, a 32-acre park in the heart of downtown. The signature waterfall is best viewed from the pedestrian-only Liberty Bridge, a single-cable suspended path that extends 345 feet as it curves around the waterfall below.

Live music, delicious cuisine, and impressive outdoor art installations are just a few of the standout attractions along Greenville’s river walk. Check out Papi’s Tacos (300 River Street) and ask for the “Travelin’ Taco”—shredded chicken, lettuce, Pico De Gallo, Crema in a bag of Fritos corn chips, and a fork. It won’t disappoint and it’s only $4.25 or three for $12.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next, stop at the picturesque Art Crossing. The Shoppes at Art Crossing, nestled in the lower level of Riverplace, house over a dozen local artists and offer the public a great variety of art in every medium. Here you will find local award-winning artists at work in their gallery/studio as they create realist and abstract paintings, photographic art, watercolors, illustrations, pottery, batik, and mixed media treasures. Art Crossing at Riverplace is in the heart of downtown Greenville right off South Main along the Reedy River and is open from 11 am to 6 pm Tuesday through Saturday.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Public space extends north and south along the Swamp Rabbit Trail that parallels the Reedy River as it rambles for 22 miles over the converted railway. The path moves south to the freshwater marsh at Lake Conestee Nature Preserve and north to Travelers Rest, a bedroom community where eateries like Upcountry Provisions offer a delicious breakfast, lunch, or dinner.

Two miles north of downtown, the Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery marks an appealing waypoint with its park-like outdoor seating, sandwiches on house-baked stecca bread, and homemade pastries. Other fan-favorite eateries include UP on the Roof (250 Riverplace) and The Lazy Goat (170 Riverplace), both of which are perfect to pop in for a delicious meal.

San Antonio River Walk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio, Texas

The River Walk, or Paseo del Rio, is one of the city’s best-known attractions. Visitors can stroll along the walking path or cruise in a river barge to explore the 15-mile urban waterway. Shop at La Villita, Market Square, or the Shops at Rivercenter. The Alamo is another favorite with tours and exhibits of the complex that was the site of the Texas Revolution battle in 1836. Further south, immerse yourself in history at the UNESCO World Heritage Site, the San Antonio Missions along the Mission Reach. Families enjoy the San Antonio Zoo and Six Flags Fiesta Texas.

Windseed Farns near Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Add a scenic road trip to the Texas Hill Country characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite. You’ll pass through small towns, boutique farms, Texas-sizes ranches, and refreshing swimming holes. Many towns also have monthly markets where you can buy everything from earrings to stained glass: Gruene Market Days (Gruene is at the edge of New Braunfels), Trade Days near Fredericksburg, Boerne Market Days, and Wimberley Market Days. Wildseed Farms is a haven for gardening accessories, seeds, and local specialty foods. Explore Enchanted Rock State Natural Area with a hike, picnic, or climb to enjoy the view.

Worth Pondering…

We know that in September, we will wander through the warm winds of summer’s wreckage. We will welcome summer’s ghost.

—Henry Rollins

The Best Mountain Towns for Your Next Road Trip

Some mountain towns offer adrenaline-filled excursions while others provide cozy atmospheres perfect for relaxing after a day of fun

Eighty-eight percent of the American West is currently experiencing a drought and the US’ largest reservoir, Lake Mead, is at its lowest level since it was filled in the 1930s. Named after Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Elwood Mead, Lake Mead stretches 112 miles long with a total capacity of 28,255,000 acre-feet, a shoreline of 759 miles, and a maximum depth of 532 feet. It provides water supply, hydroelectric power, recreation, and wildlife habitat. Because of prolonged drought and increasing demand, Lake Mead—which provides water to over 20 million people in the states of Arizona, Nevada, and California—has not actually reached its full capacity since 1983. With a record-breaking heatwave sizzling its way across the West this past week officials will likely declare the first-ever water shortage for the Colorado River which feeds Lake Mead.

Lake Mead above Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The shortage will affect much more than Californians’ shower times. No “good” in this list but here’s…

The bad: Agriculture. Rising water prices and dwindling government subsidies means farmers are letting fields of almonds (one of California’s most lucrative crops), tomatoes, and other produce go fallow. 

The ugly: Fishing. 17 million salmon are being chauffeured from drying rivers to the ocean, possibly costing more than $800,000 but saving 23,000 industry jobs.

Lake Mead © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The also-bad-and-ugly: Power. Grids are already struggling to keep the A/C running and capacity at hydroelectric power facilities is plummeting. At Lake Mead’s Hoover Dam, it’s down 25 percent.

Looking ahead…fire season has already started will most likely last longer than usual due to this drought.

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And now onto “favorite mountains for your next road trip”…

Summer is finally here and with COVID restrictions lowered across the country it’s time to load up the RV, head for the mountains, and char the heck out of some marshmallows over an open fire. Think: fresh air, rugged trails, and a mountain stream. What’s more, a high-altitude escape may actually be closer than you realize—like within driving distance. From old standbys to a few spots you’ve probably never even heard of (what’s up, Fayetteville?), these are the best mountain towns in the US and Canada.

Stowe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe, Vermont

Nestled at the foot of Mount Mansfield, Stowe is a quintessential New England town and everything you’d want in a Vermont getaway. In terms of outdoor attractions, there are ski slopes, backcountry trails, waterfalls, and The Current’s annual outdoor sculpture show. As a bonus, the cute little downtown area has wonderful shops, restaurants, breweries, and inns.

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

Fayetteville, West Virginia

With the official designation earlier this year of America’s newest national park, New River Gorge National Park and Preserve, neighboring Fayetteville has been buzzing. However, this laid-back, tight-knit community (named for American Revolutionary War hero Marquis de Lafayette) has long been a place where adventure reigns. The nearby New and Gauley Rivers offer world-class whitewater rafting and the Fayetteville area is home to some of the best rock climbing along the East Coast. It’s also a prime spot for mountain biking.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian, California

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California. This historic gold-mining town is nestled among oak and pine forests between the north end of the Cuyamaca Mountains and the south slope of the Volcan Mountains. Take a step back in time to the days of Julian’s beginning rooted in the 1870s gold rush and discover the charms of Julian. You’ll enjoy visiting Julian for its laid-back charm, historical buildings, beautiful surroundings, and delicious apple pies.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gatlinburg, Tennessee

The western gateway to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gatlinburg in eastern Tennessee is a playground of outdoor adventure. No matter the season you visit, there’s always something active (and totally awesome) to do—from hiking and whitewater rafting to skiing and snowshoeing when the temperature drops.

Helen © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen, Georgia

A Bavarian-inspired village with alpine charm in spades, Helen has heaps of character and enchanting architecture. Given its Germanic roots, we were hardly shocked to learn that Oktoberfest is hugely popular. Vineyards, breweries, and an array of shops attract year-round travelers. For a sweet treat, stock up on confections at Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen. Speaking of food, the köstlich (German for delicious) and authentic dining scene also deserves a shout-out. Nearby Unicoi State Park offers 53 acres of forested trails, plus numerous campsites and a lake.

Helena © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helena, Montana

One and a half centuries ago, Helena became the “Queen City of the Rockies” with the boom brought on by the 1864 gold strike. Helena grew along Last Chance Gulch and in 1875 became the Montana territorial capital. Today the state capital’s grand architecture, beautiful cathedral, numerous museums, and historic sites offer a glimpse into the rich and deep history of the city. Helena also boasts numerous lakes, a historic district, vibrant cultural center with a busy event calendar, eclectic shopping, art galleries, terrific local bands, great restaurants, local microbreweries, an epic trail system, and the nearby Helena National Forest.

Jacksonville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jacksonville, Oregon

Jacksonville is nestled in the Siskyou Mountain foothills along the Rogue River Valley and is easy to fall in love with. The little town is the Heart of Rogue Valley wine country which includes the Applegate Valley Wine Trail. Though sometimes busy the small-town ambiance (population 2,860), gorgeous setting, and beautifully preserved late 1800s architecture combines to make a very attractive town. The little gem of a town is highly walkable and has at least one of everything—except chain stores.

Sundial Bridge, Redding © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Redding, California

With mountains all around, a river running through it, and national parks nearby, Redding is an outdoor paradise for all ages. Cradled by Mount Shasta and Mount Lassen, Redding has 300+ sunny days per year. Redding is also home to the famous Sundial Bridge and world-class fishing. Turtle Bay Exploration Park is a 300-acre campus along the banks of the Sacramento River. Gateway to the city’s 220-mile trail system, the Park features a botanical garden, natural history and science museum, and exploration center. The 300-acre complex is tied together by Redding’s jewel, the Sundial Bridge.

Berea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Berea, Kentucky

In Berea, you can celebrate Kentucky crafts by visiting dozens of artist’s studios, galleries, and stores. The Folk Arts and Crafts Capital of Kentucky, Berea is ranked among the top art communities in the U. S. Nestled between the Bluegrass region and the foothills of the Cumberland Mountains, Berea offers visitors over 40 arts and crafts shops featuring everything from handmade dulcimers and homemade chocolate to jewelry stores, art galleries, quilt-makers, and even glassblowing studios. The Pinnacles in Berea College Forest offers beautiful views, proximity to Daniel Boone Forest, and easy access from town.

National D-Day Memorial, Bedford © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bedford, Virginia

Resting at the foot of the Peaks of Otter in the heart of Virginia’s the Blue Ridge Mountains, Bedford is home to several historic landmarks including the National D-Day Memorial, the Elks National Home, and the Avenel Plantation. Nearby, visitors have a wide range of attractions: Thomas Jefferson’s Poplar Forest, Smith Mountain Lake, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Peaks of Otter, and the Sedalia Center for the Arts. There are a dozen wineries within a short drive out of the town and plenty of antiquing, horseback riding, hunting, fishing, and other outdoor sports.

Greenville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Greenville, South Carolina

Located in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, South Carolina’s Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. As the hub of the Upcountry, Greenville has been finding its way onto many national Top Ten lists for its lively arts scene, its modern downtown, and outdoor activities. Table Rock, Jones Gap, Paris Mountain, and Caesars Head state parks all deliver Blue Ridge Mountain adventure in Greenville’s backyard. The Cherokee Foothills National Scenic Byway traces a dramatic break of the Blue Ridge Escarpment with its abundance of waterfalls. 

Colorado River neat Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted, and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain.

Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott, Arizona

Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the West, the beautiful town of Prescott is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage. With shaded trees, well-kept yards, and Victorian houses of an earlier era, Prescott seems the idealized small town. Courthouse Plaza, dominated by the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, works for me as the classic town square—the centerpiece of Anytown, USA.

Banff National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banff, Alberta

This is a town that barely needs an introduction. Banff is world-renowned and well-loved. The town of Banff is located on the Bow River in Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Rocky Mountain peaks, turquoise glacial lakes, a picture-perfect mountain town, abundant wildlife, and scenic drives come together in Banff National Park, Canada’s first national park The town is surrounded by Mount Rundle, Sulphur Mountain, Mount Norquay, and Cascade Mountain. From downtown Banff, you’ll have access to scenic drives, camping, hiking trails, biking, natural hot springs, horseback riding, canoeing, and great shopping.

Jasper National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jasper, Alberta

I do enjoy Banff. But I desperately and truly love Jasper. Jasper possesses many similar amenities to Banff but on a smaller scale. Located 180 miles north of Banff along the Icefields Parkway, Jasper attracts those that are looking to get a little further off the beaten path and away from the crowds. Jasper is a small town in the middle of Canada’s largest Rockies national park. Mount Edith Cavell is nearby as stunning as Spirit Island in the middle of Maligne Lake. The park is home to the world’s second-largest dark sky preserve and has 750 miles of hiking trails. It is a beacon to all lovers of the outdoors.

Worth Pondering…

Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.

—John Muir

Most Delightful Small Towns to Visit

There’s something about small towns that ignite our imaginations

Filled with charm and plenty of friendly locals, small towns are synonymous with American life. To help you decide which towns to visit, we’ve narrowed it down to places with a population of fewer than 50,000 that offer scenic beauty and plenty of attractions plus have a unique character all their own. So ditch the city crowds and start planning your small-town getaway. 

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona

You’ll find the perfect mix of adventure and relaxation in this Arizona small town. The 100-plus hiking trails are great for nature lovers while the vortexes draw holistic enthusiasts and the spas cater to visitors looking to unwind. For a bit of retail therapy, head to Tlaquepaque arts village. Conclude your day with a visit to one of the local wineries for a tasting and to purchase a bottle of wine.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Sedona

Sedona is regularly described as one of America’s most beautiful places. Nowhere else will you find a landscape this dramatically colorful. The towering red rocks and jagged sandstone buttes matched against a blue sky have beckoned to artists for years. Oh yeah, did we mention that the area is home to more than 100 hiking trails? Don’t forget to bring your boots!

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

Gatlinburg

Located in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains, this Tennessee town offers both wild adventures and down-home charm. Gatlinburg boasts three different entrances to Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the 150-plus hiking trails are sure to please hikers of all skill levels.

Gatlinburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Gatlinburg

When you’re not in the park enjoying its natural wonders, you’ll likely spend time admiring it from several of Gatlinburg’s top attractions, including the Gatlinburg Space Needle and the Ober Gatlinburg Aerial Tramway. But Gatlinburg isn’t just a gateway to the Smokies. This small mountain town is a destination in its own right, and one that’s particularly popular with families thanks to kid-friendly diversions like Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies and the Sweet Fanny Adams Theatre.

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williamsburg

This quaint Virginia town boasts a Colonial district where visitors can see gunsmiths, milliners and more at work, all of whom wear period clothing. You can also visit several historic buildings, including the Governor’s Palace. Not a history buff? Take a stroll through Merchant’s Square for specialty shops.

Historic Jamestowne © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Williamsburg

Williamsburg and the nearby cities of Jamestown and Yorktown are breathing monuments to some of the best-known figures of America’s colonial history. Patrick Henry, George Washington, John Smith, Pocahontas and more.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab

This eastern Utah town serves as a gateway to the otherworldly rock formations found in Arches National Park and the numerous canyons and buttes in Canyonlands National Park. The town itself hosts countless festivals including the Moab Folk Festival, the Moab ArtWalk, and the Moab Trashion Show where participants create fashionable clothes from recycled materials. Plus, you can explore the city’s prehistoric history by visiting dinosaur-themed attractions like the Moab Giants Museum & Dinosaur Park.

Colorado River near Moab © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Moab

One of the top adventure towns in the world, Moab is surrounded by a sea of buckled, twisted and worn sandstone sculpted by millennia of sun, wind, and rain. Main Street’s traffic instantly confirms Moab’s reputation as a gathering place for outdoor recreation.

Stowe Community Church © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stowe

Stowe makes for an enjoyable spring or summer vacation (thanks to its outdoor offerings and events), a fun fall trip (thanks to its kaleidoscopic foliage), and a great winter getaway (thanks to its ski slopes). This quaint Vermont town is set in a valley and backed by mountains which means exploring Mother Nature by foot, bike, ski, or zip line is top priority for most travelers. When it’s time to wind down, visit one of the area’s breweries.

Von Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Why Go To Stowe, Vermont

Are you daydreaming of the European Alps but don’t have the dough to go? Consider the quaint—and more affordable—Vermont village of Stowe. This classic New England town is filled with malt shops and general stores, as well as charming churches and working farms. You’ll think you’re nestled in a sleepy village in the Alps. At least the von Trapps thought so; Stowe’s Trapp Family Lodge is where the melodious family of The Sound of Music fame settled because it reminded them of their Austrian home.

Worth Pondering…

Life is not long and too much of it must not pass in idle deliberation how it shall be spent.

—Samuel Jackson