20 Charming Towns for Your Bucket List

Hit the roads less traveled

When planning a road trip, most travelers search out popular destinations. It’s usually cities they’ve read about or towns and attractions that have been recommended by friends or family or on social media. But there are an unlimited number of small towns in America that are worth visiting even if you didn’t know they existed. These 20 unheard-of towns across the U.S. may not be on your bucket list but they absolutely deserve a spot.

St. Simons Island, Georgia

History buffs and beach lovers alike will love this small island town off the Georgia coast. There, you can play a round of golf, fish, visit historical sites, and climb to the top of the St. Simons lighthouse for amazing views.

Bisbee, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee, Arizona

Back in the day, Bisbee was a major silver and copper mining hub, but now it’s a quaint small town home to artists and dreamers. With houses on cliffs’ edges and a mine cavern that you can still explore, it’s picturesque.

Jim Beam American Stillhouse, Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bardstown, Kentucky

If you like whiskey, Bardstown is a can’t-miss stop. The bourbon capital of the world, Bardstown is to several distilleries including Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark. Be sure to tour My Old Kentucky Home State Park.

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro, New Hampshire

This town’s motto is “The Oldest Summer Resort in America” and its prime location on Lake Winnipesaukee proves why. People from all over New Hampshire and Boston vacation here during warm summer months.

Corning, New York © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Corning, New York

Wineries and breweries: check. Panoramic views of a gorgeous lake: check. Restaurants filled with top-notch food: check. The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and welcoming visitors in a unique way. This southern Finger Lakes community offers something for everyone.

Woods Hole, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Woods Hole, Massachusetts

This tiny, bustling Cape Cod town was once a pass-through destination for Martha’s Vineyard ferry travelers. Now it holds its own thanks to a charming waterfront filled with restaurants and shopping.

Marietta, Ohio © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Marietta, Ohio

This town was settled in the 1700s and named in honor of Marie Antoinette. Today, it’s a historic riverboat town that’s ideal for families who seek out vacations full of outdoor adventures.

Cedar Key, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cedar Key, Florida

This secluded beach community is less about the hustle and bustle and more about small town living. Proof: The restaurant- and buffet-filled streets of the mile-long historic district are filled with bicycles instead of cars.

Fredericksburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg, Texas

In the heart of the Texas Hill Country, Fredericksburg maintains a small-town feel while having lots of things to see and do. With its unique German heritage, thriving wineries, and shopping, it’s the perfect getaway. The historic buildings along Main Street are home to over 100 shops. Influenced by the town’s heritage, German and German-inspired food options abound.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana

Bon Temps et Bon Amis, Breaux Bridge, Louisiana is the place to be.  For toe-tappin’, lip smackin’, ol’ fashioned fun, this little town has something for everyone! Nestled on the banks of the Bayou Teche, Breaux Bridge is a unique community filled with “Joie…

Shipshewana, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana, Indiana

This cute town boasts an Amish community and the largest flea market in the country featuring a whopping 900 booths that cover 100 acres of land. You can munch on treats like sweet corn, while the kids feed animals at the petting zoo.

Fairhope, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fairhope, Alabama

Shangri-La may be a fantasy, but you can find a real-life utopia on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay. The city of Fairhope (population, 16,000), founded in 1894 by a society based on cooperative community ownership, was named for its members’ belief that their enterprise had a “fair hope” of success. Ever since, it has beckoned artists and writers. Galleries and studios pepper downtown streets along the waterfront, alongside more than 80 antique shops, small boutiques, and locally owned restaurants. Visit once and you will be back.

Helen, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Helen Georgia

Helen is a replica Bavarian Alpine town the family will enjoy visiting. A faltering logging town, Helen resurrected itself in 1969 by requiring all of the buildings to be designed in the style of a south German mountain village. It features a downtown with specialty shops offering everything from toys, to pottery, to fudge, and delicious German delicacies like Spätzle and Bratwürst.

Gruene, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gruene, Texas

Gruene (pronounced like the color green) is designated a historic town by the state of Texas—part of that history is musical. The oldest dance hall in the state (still in its original 1800s-era building) is most famous for its country concerts, but swing, rockabilly, jazz, gospel, and folk musicians take the stage, too. The likes of Willie Nelson, George Strait, Jerry Jeff Walker, and Lyle Lovett have all graced the stage at Gruene Hall.

Ben & Jerry’s © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Waterbury, Vermont

Look around town with its brick commercial architecture and sampling of handsome early homes. Most travelers, however, are either passing through or looking for “that ice cream place.” Just to the north of Waterbury along Route 100 Scenic Byway lie a major destination for food-lovers—Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, Lake Champlain Chocolates, the Cabot Cheese Annex—and Waterbury Center, with its stunning views of the Worcester Range.

La Grange, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Grange, Texas

You’ll discover a fanciful cache of history and culture in this Central Texas community, a town steeped in German and Czech culture. Much of the town history is encased in dignified old architecture laid in the late 1800s. Many of the original buildings have been renovated and serve as creative outlets. The Texas Quilt Museum is located in two historic 1890s buildings.

Moab, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Moab, Utah

Moab is a small city in eastern Utah famed for its natural beauty and fun escapes for adventure lovers. Moab is a quick drive from two national parks (Arches and Canyonlands) and home to the most popular state park in Utah (Dead Horse State Park). The La Sal Mountain Scenic Loop Road features spectacular scenery ranging from the forested heights of the La Sal Mountains to expansive views of red rock landscape. 

Urbanna Oyster Festival, Virginia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna, Virginia

A beautiful Colonial port town, Urbanna offers surprises around every corner. Turn off the main road or cruise up the Rappahannock River from the Chesapeake Bay to the charming and friendly historic Colonial port town of Urbanna. Home of Virginia’s Official Oyster Festival, more boats than folks and laid back innkeepers, shopkeepers, and townspeople.

Midway, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad (1832). During the railroad’s heyday, the 1930s and 40s, up to 30 trains a day rumbled through the middle of town. The passenger trains dwindled until the old depot was closed in 1963. Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Murphys, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Murphys, California

The town of Murphys is overflowing with wine courtesy of 25+ tasting rooms dotting Main Street. The microclimates in the Sierra Foothills AVA allow for all kinds of grape varieties but the most common varietals include zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, and chardonnay. There are also a numerous nearby vineyards that offer on-site wine tasting. 

Worth Pondering…

Once a year go somewhere you have never been before.

—Dalai Lama

Ultimate Guide to East Coast Destinations for a Road Trip

If you haven’t considered the possibility of an epic east coast road trip, we’re here as your guide

Getting on a plane can seem daunting, but taking a road trip beyond the four walls of your home is quite embraced, as long as it’s socially-distanced. If you want to take a weekend trip or an extended road trip, read on for your guide to East Coast destinations that are ideal for a summer or autumn road trip, ordered from North to South.

Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

New Hampshire

Lake Winnipesaukee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Hampshire is bursting with a variety of landscapes to choose from. If you’re looking to get outdoors and stay active, New Hampshire is your state. Lake Winnipesaukee is the sixth-largest in the country. The lake’s beaches are perfect for relaxing in the sun or for the more active, swimming and sailing are a few of the water sports you can take advantage of on Lake Winnipesaukee in the summer.

White Mountains National Forest © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arguably one of the most popular destinations in all of New Hampshire, White Mountain National Forest is home to endless hiking trails, wild species, and views galore. Whether you visit in the spring, summer, fall, or winter, it is worth the few hours of driving. Be sure to bring your camera and stop at the ranger station before beginning an excursion because they will fill you in on all of the things to keep an eye out for on your trek.

Massachusetts

Freedom Trail, Boston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts is a state that many yearn to visit in the summer. With every type of scenery from picturesque islands—think Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket­—boasting sailboats to a city with an old, cobblestone street vibe, you can do and see it all in Massachusetts.

Old Ironside © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It would be remiss to visit Massachusetts without at least dropping in on the bustling city of Boston. Boston is a city with old-time charm and a lot of history. As you walk through the town you encounter cobblestone streets, old buildings, and the waterfront of the harbor. Be sure not to miss iconic stops like Fenway Park, Faneuil Hall Marketplace, USS Constitution (Old Ironside), and Boston Public Garden for gorgeous park views. For the history buffs out there, pick up a map of the Freedom Trail for a self-guided history lesson.

Hyannis Harbor, Cape Cod © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before leaving this incredible city, we’d be remiss if we didn’t recommend more incredible New England breweries based in Boston. Of course, the well-known Samuel Adams Brewery is a must-see. If you’re in the mood for incredible craft beers and deliciously fluffy pretzels (made from the actual hops of the beer) then Harpoon Brewery is for you.

Rhode Island

The Breakers © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Founded in 1639, Newport, Rhode Island is considered to be the shining gem in the coastal crown of New England. A haven for religious dissenters, a critical Colonial Era port city, a thriving artists’ colony, a summer playground for America’s barons of industry during the Gilded Age, and home to the U.S. Naval War College, Newport is a destination like none other.

International Tennis Hall of Fame, Newport © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Possibly best known for its timeless mansions, the Cliff Walk is a must-see upon entering Newport. Beautiful estates like the Breakers, Rosecliff, The Elms, and more are available for walking tours. You can purchase tickets for one or multiple estates at the Breakers upon arrival and you can walk or drive amongst each one. Along the Cliff Walk, you will also pass the beautiful Salve Regina University.

Upstate New York

Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Upstate New York is like a whole new world from the concrete jungle that we know as New York City. Full of quaint small towns with boutiques and beautiful scenery, Upstate New York is not a destination to be missed.

Village of Lake George © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga is most notably known for the Saratoga Race Course. Although races may not be happening during this time, consider simply making the trip to walk around the massive grounds or perhaps wait until horse racing is back in action to visit. During the summer, the Saratoga Farmers’ Market is in full swing, making for the perfect summer activity. And of course, the sweeping hills of New York contain many well-known wineries and Saratoga is no exception.

Saratoga National Historic Park reenactment © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saratoga National Historical Park has a number of attractions and activities that happen throughout the year. Visit the site of the historic Battle of Saratoga, take tours at the Schuyler House, check out the Saratoga Monument, walk through Victory Woods, and explore the battlefield. Before you go, check the park’s official website for alerts. As always, be safe, have fun, and enjoy!  

Corning Museum of Glass © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Corning Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years and as many museums allow back visitors, they’re doing so with extra safety precautions and in a unique way. The museum, which showcases a first-hand look at glassblowing and 3,500 year-old glass on exhibit, is now scheduling online virtual reservations. Guests will be temperature checked when they walk in, masks are required for both guests and even the glassblowers who run the workshops and capacity is limited to allow social distancing. Normally, there’s a make your own glass workshop but they’ve had to adapt—there’s now individualized packages for the materials for families to get involved.

Pennsylvania

Lancaster County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pennsylvania is known for its popular cities of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh that contain a ton of historical value and things to do. However, the Keystone State is quite large so where you end up may depend on how far you’re willing to travel and what you want to see and do.

Gettysburg National Military Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gettysburg National Military Park is a must-see for any fall excursion, providing the perfect, scenic backdrop for visitors experiencing this historic battlefield. Explore the sights and sounds of battlefield reenactments, monuments, memorials, and true history. Gettysburg offers guests a part of the nation’s past all year and provides optimal trekking treasures in the fall.

Virginia

Colonial Williamsburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Virginia’s Historic Triangle is full of living history and fun for the whole family. Located in Coastal Virginia between the James and York rivers—Jamestown, Yorktown, and Williamsburg together are named the Historic Triangle for their historical significance and close proximity.

Colonial Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The area includes five historic sites and attractions from the first English settlement at Jamestown, to the end of the Revolutionary War at Yorktown, and the founding of a new nation at Williamsburg. The sites are easy to visit when traveling along the scenic Colonial Parkway and many offer discounted tickets and packages when you visit more than one.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Williamsburg is great for all ages if you have younger kids you really can’t go wrong here. This town is an extremely interactive way to engage your little ones in the rich history of America. Williamsburg served as the capital of the Colony and Commonwealth of Virginia from 1699 to 1780 and acted as the center of political events leading to the American Revolution. You will be transported back in time through “townspeople” willing to tell their stories and include you in interactive experiences that tell a tale of Williamsburg long ago.

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

RV Travel Photography Tips & Tricks

A better way to capture stunning images on your next RV road trip

Comedian Steven Wright once said, “Everywhere is within walking distance if you have the time.” Substitute the word “driving” for “walking” and you’ll see why RV road trips are a great way to see, experience, enjoy—and of course—photograph Roadside America.

World’s Largest Roadrunner near La Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Road trips offer photographers the advantages of being self-contained and allowing them to travel on their own schedules. Simply put, road trips offer freedom—freedom to come and go as you please and the freedom to shoot what you like, when you like, and for as long as you like.

Hoover Dam © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Think for a moment about the jaw-dropping photos you’ve seen in magazines and online? The diversity in landscape and ecology that America offers is so magnificent and varied.

Audubon Swamp Garden near Charleston, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And how fortunate are we as RVers to have opportunities to travel and access these stunning locations and photograph them using an amazing variety of digital devices? An RV trip gives us the chance to explore all that nature has to offer. Travel up mountains, through forests, and across deserts, all while enjoying the beautiful scenery and fascinating wildlife. Of course, you’ll want to mind your COVID behavior which includes maintaining a distance from people and keeping a mask handy for any public areas.

Historic Georgetown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, there an unlimited variety of readily accessible natural areas for RV travelers to visit and to photograph if you’re prepared and have a little bit of luck on your side.

Planning is the key to success with any photo shoot and that’s especially true for road trips. In planning your trip, consider that you’re basically chasing the light. You want to be in scenic locations during optimum lighting conditions when shadows and highlights come together for awesome images.

Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you’re prepared, you’re simply increasing your chances of capturing a great shot. The good news is that there are plenty of things you can do to maximize your chances of nailing that beautiful sunset…or desert scene…or deer-in-the-meadows photo.

Desert wildflowers near Yuma, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dr. Louis Pasteur, inventor of pasteurization, has a very meaningful quote attributed to him: “Where observation is concerned, chance favors only the prepared mind.” Now, while Dr. Pasteur may have been referring to the field of scientific observation, it can easily apply it to landscape photography.

Or the words of the great photographer, Ansel Adams: “Sometimes I do get to places just when God’s ready to have somebody click the shutter.”

Amador Flower Farm, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before setting out on a nature shoot—especially if it’s at an unfamiliar location—take time for some “online reconnaissance.” Access to some amazing technologies can make our jobs as landscape photographers easier. One such piece of technology is the mobile phone and its use of GPS.

Let’s say you’re planning to photograph the sunrise or sunset at a specific location. To help prepare you can research some of the more obvious things like weather forecasts and driving routes along with any potential hazard alerts for the area.

Lake Kaweah on the road to Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another favorite online tool is Google Maps. The sheer amount of geographic and topological information available on Google Maps is staggering. Spend some time exploring Google Maps and you’ll have a better understanding of the area and a more precise idea of where to go and what to expect when you get there.

Snake River at Twin Falls, Idaho © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If there’s one variable that will change things up on you no matter how much due diligence you put in, it’s the weather. While weather forecasts are worth spending time researching they’re not an excuse for being caught off-guard. If the forecasts call for mild temps with scattered clouds you should still be prepared for the chance of showers.

Texas sunset near Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Let’s say your intent is to photograph the sunset. You know where you’re going, you have the right gear with you, and the weather is all but guaranteed to be great for the setting sun. So how are you going to capture it?

Sunset near Casa Grande, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sure, you could just fill the frame with the sun and call it a day but you’re here to convey the beauty of the landscape in front of you, right? You also want to give your viewer a sense of place and depth. One of the best ways to do so is with strong foreground elements. Pay attention to what you’ll use to accompany the actual sunrise or sunset. Saguaro cactus and palm trees can be used to your advantage when photographing a sunrise or sunset as shown in above photos.

After doing a 180-degree pivot I took this photo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget to turn around and shoot away from the sun for some amazing scenes in the glow of the late afternoon light as seen near Casa Grande, Arizona.

Landscape Arch in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In certain situations you’ll be able to use natural surroundings to frame the sun as I did at Landscape Arch in Arches National Park.

“If you are not having fun, you are doing something wrong.”

On your road trip, focus on having a ton of fun. The more fun you have, the more you’ll enjoy your photo experience which will result in a high percentage of “keepers.”

And, be flexible because as much as you plan, things can happen—with the weather, traffic, detours and so on. When things don’t go just right, take a deep breath. “Smile, be happy,” as the Bobby McFerrin song goes. Be happy that you are on the road doing what you like to do: Make pictures.

Worth Pondering…

We don’t take pictures with our cameras. We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool.

—Arnold Newman

Sea to Shining Sea: 8 of the Best Destinations to Visit across the US

Interest in small towns and outdoor spaces is booming with crowd-wary folks drawn to wide open spaces and natural beauty

There was a time many decades back when I considered myself a camping expert. Setting up tents, cooking on a propane stove, and tearing down a campsite all came easily in those days. Over the years that interest waned and I become a devotee of the RV lifestyle. These days, nothing beats the comforts of our plush home-on-wheels after a day of exploring or hiking.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Regardless of your travel mode, here are eight of our favorite places to visit on a cross-country road trip that are appropriate for the summer of 2020. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people.

The Black Hills © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Black Hills and Badlands in South Dakota

When you think of tourism in South Dakota, Mount Rushmore probably rushes to mind. And, yes, there’s that. But also, there’s Badlands National Park with 244,000 acres of what could be described as a mix of Death Valley, Grand Canyon, Red Rock Canyon, and Valley of Fire State Park all in one with magnificent native grasses that soften the rugged landscape. The entire area that includes the Black Hills, Badlands National Park, and Custer State Park provides an incredible sense of openness and space—along with a compelling story of the land from prehistory to Standing Rock.

Tabasco Factory © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country in Louisiana

Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam or run the roads and Cajun Country is the perfect destination for an extended vacation to rôder. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, a meat market, and a pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the most well-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo.

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

Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina

It’s no wonder Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most popular national park in the U.S. There’s a ton to see and do—and the area is just a reasonable drive away for millions and millions of Americans. Many visitors come here to simply drive around and enjoy the view. For example, Cades Cove Loop Road is a scenic (and very popular) 11-mile loop that will give you a great introduction to what the Smokies have to offer.

Wolfeboro © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wolfeboro in New Hampshire

This city has a serious claim to domestic vacation fame as it’s considered the “oldest summer resort city in America”—Wolfeboro has roots dating back to the 1700s and is known not only for its shopping and dining but also for Lake Winnepesaukee. In addition to lazy days on the lake visitors must try the Maine lobster, eat clams with butter and crumbs, and lobster rolls.

Edisto Island © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto Island in South Carolina

Edisto Island features several gorgeous beaches but it’s an equally attractive destination for its beautiful plantations and quiet overall atmosphere. It’s secluded, historic, and relaxing—perfect for a quick getaway. Wildlife lovers will want to visit the Edisto Island Serpentarium to watch alligator feedings and learn about unique species of snakes, turtles, and other reptiles native to the region. If that seems a little too…slithery, try taking a drive through the Botany Bay Plantation Heritage Preserve, a 4,600-acre stretch of undeveloped beachfront.

Quilt Garden along the Heritage Trail in Nappanee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country in Indiana

Northern Indiana is home to nearly 20,000 Amish, a culture that remains true to centuries-old traditions even as the world around them changes at break-neck speed. A few days in Amish Country will introduce you to delicious made-from-scratch meals, amazing craftsmanship, delightful theater productions, tons of shopping, and horse-drawn carriage rides. You can take in the amazing works as you drive the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail.

Kerrville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

The small towns and two-lane roads westward of Austin make up the heart of the Texas Hill Country. There you will find the unexpected gems of Texas—rivers that wind through stands of bald cypress trees, shimmering lakes, limestone canyons, and rustic German towns with such names as Fredericksburg, New Braunfels, Boerne, and Kerrville. Round as a giant Easter egg, Enchanted Rock sits half-buried in the hills north of Fredericksburg. It’s a half-mile hike to the top, but for an unforgettable experience.

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona in Arizona

Seeing the iconic red rocks of Sedona will simply take your breath away. You will be awestruck by the majestic crimson rock formations and perhaps feel the energy for which this area is known. Surrounded by 1.8 million acres of national forest land, four wilderness areas, and two state parks this is a landscape built for adventure. Put simply—there is no other place on earth like Sedona

Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottom line

There are hundreds—if not thousands—of amazing places to visit across the country. This list is far from exhaustive, but it encompasses eight well-loved popular destinations that could keep us busy for years to come.

Worth Pondering…

From wonder into wonder, existence opens.

—Lao Tzu

Road-tripping on California’s Less-traveled Lanes

California is such a large state there is no shortage of exciting road trips and fun things to do

Road trips have never been more appealing, offering the liberating feeling of open space while keeping us far from crowds. Once you’ve checked Scenic Highway 1 off your bucket list, there are plenty of other intriguing ways to traverse the Golden State.

Borrego Springs metal sculptures

Below, we’ll dive deep into a less-traveled route as it passes a weird lake, skirts a national park, offers quirky mementos of state history, and introduces you to Gold Rush lore. Remember to travel with caution, follow good health practices, and behave responsibly when outdoors or around other people. Also, get the latest information about your destination before proceeding. Check for fire restrictions and other closures. We know how quickly things can change.

Julian © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Julian

Julian is a small mountain community in Southern California located at the intersection of California highways 78 and 79. 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 Volcan Mountain. 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 the delicious apple pies.

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

Borrego Springs

A big part of any road trip is stumbling upon bizarre roadside attractions—and there are plenty to experience in the California desert. Just outside Borrego Springs and near the boundary of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, sculptor Ricardo Breceda assembled roughly 130 gigantic scrap-metal sculptures of animals, including dinosaurs, and a saber-toothed cat. These fanciful creatures seem to march across the scruffy flats.

Salton Sea © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Salton Sea 

Drive from El Centro to the Salton Sea, which was created after a Colorado River dam overflowed in 1905. Today, the Salton Sea is one of the world’s largest inland seas, lying at 227 feet below sea level and measuring 45 miles long.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park 

One of the most unique parks in the country’s public lands treasure trove, Joshua Tree is named after its unusual, alien-esque trees, which are actually a member of the agave family.

Lodi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lodi

Lying at the edge of the Sacramento River Delta, Lodi enjoys a classic Mediterranean climate of warm days and cool evenings, ideal for growing wine grapes. Wander historic downtown Lodi with century-old brick buildings, brick-cobbled streets lined with elm trees and turn-of-the-century light poles. You’ll love this area and the way the city has maintained its history and heritage. Many unique shops, restaurants, and more than a dozen wine tasting boutiques and exciting restaurants.

Gold Rush town of Moke Hill near Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sonora 

Here, you’ll find the Tuolumne County Museum in a former jailhouse. You could detour north to Columbia State Historic Park, which is a preserved town from the Gold Rush days. Then you’ll head north on Highway 49, named for the 1849 Gold Rush that turned San Francisco from a town into a major city—and that forever changed the state of California.

Angels Camp © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Angels Camp and Mark Twain 

Just beyond Sonora up Highway 49 is Angels Camp, where—if you happen to be there in May—you might catch a frog-jumping event in honor of Mark Twain’s first short story, “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.” The story, which won Twain literary acclaim is based on a story he heard in an Angels Camp bar when he lived there hoping to find gold.

Placerville © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Gold Rush Country 

In Placerville, tour a gold mine that dates to 1888. Further on, Grass Valley has its own historic gold mine, Empire Mine, and the North Star Mining Museum. If you’re there in March, you can watch the St. Piran’s Day events, which commemorate the miners from Cornwall who settled here over 150 years ago.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lassen Volcanic National Park 

After you’ve struck it rich panning for gold, do you really need anything else? Well, head a bit further on to be wowed by the geysers, lava rocks, and forested alpine peaks of Lassen National Park. It’s the ultimate reward after an unusual drive up the little-known roads of this well-known state.

Lassen Volcanic National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

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

Best Summer Road Trips from Major American Cities

Escape to mountains, lakes, beach, and desert. You can also escape to small towns.

Looking to get away this summer? Travel is a popular pastime every summer, but with months of lockdowns and stay-home orders confining Americans to their homes due to the pandemic, many people are more ready than ever for a change of scenery.

Here are six great summer road trip destinations just a few hours outside the urban hustle and bustle.

Macon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Atlanta

Atlanta has so much to do, but sometimes you just want to get out of the city and explore what the surrounding areas have to offer! Or possibly, like us you’re an RVer and can’t locate a decent campground within 50 miles.

Ocmulgee National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Macon

Distance from Atlanta: 83 miles

Oh, Macon! Home to a downtown area that’s got so much to do! Visit Amerson River Park and walk the paths while watching the kayakers paddle by on the Ocmulgee River. A visit to the Ocmulgee National Monument is a must-do, take a hike or bike the Ocmulgee Heritage Trail, or spend the day on Lake Tobesofkee.

Ashton Villa, Galveston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Houston

America’s fourth-largest city is a cosmopolitan destination filled with world-class dining, arts, entertainment, shopping, and outdoor recreation. Take a stroll through the historic Heights, spend the day exploring the Museum District, or head down to Space Center Houston.

Galveston State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston Island

Distance from Houston: 50 miles

Come to the island to stroll the beach or splash in the waves. Or come to the island to go fishing or look for coastal birds. No matter what brings you here, you’ll find a refuge at Galveston Island State Park. Just an hour from Houston, but an island apart!

Papago Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Phoenix

Begin your adventure in the capital city of the 48th state known for year-round sunny skies and reliably warm temperatures. Phoenix is the epicenter of a sprawling metro area (the country’s 5th most populated) known as the Valley of the Sun. You’ll find dozens of top-notch golf courses, scores of hiking and biking trails, and the well-regarded, family-friendly Papago Park and adjacent Desert Botanical Gardens.

Courthouse Plaza, Prescott © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Prescott

Distance from Phoenix: 100 miles

A Western history lover’s sweet spot, mile-high Prescott is home to more than 700 homes and businesses listed in the National Register of Historic Places as well as museums that tell their stories. Stroll along Whiskey Row where saloons thrive alongside shops, galleries, eateries, and antique venues.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Los Angeles

Los Angeles is home to renowned museums, diverse experiences, 75 miles of sunny coastline, and hundreds of miles of bike and hiking trails. LA’s cultural attractions include the Space Shuttle Endeavour, Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Getty Center, and art galleries. No trip to Los Angeles is complete without a visit to Hollywood, the home of movie studios, many of L.A.’s most popular and historic tourist destinations, and its world-famous namesake boulevard.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park 

Distance from Los Angeles: 130 miles

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases. Explore the desert scenery, granite monoliths (popular with rock climbers), petroglyphs from early Native Americans, old mines, and ranches. The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Sonoran deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. 

Amish Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chicago

Chicago is a city unlike any other. There are a few things you need to do like eat a Chicago style hot dog, see “The Bean,” and take a river boat cruise. Located on the south bank of the Chicago River, the Riverwalk stretches 1.25 miles from Lake Shore Drive to Lake Street. Chicago’s nearly 600 parks and 26 miles of lakefront make it easy to enjoy the great outdoors in the middle of the city. Whatever it is you’re looking for, you’ll find there’s no other place like Chicago.

Shipshewanna Outdoor Market © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amish Country

Distance from Chicago: 110 miles

Northern Indiana is home to nearly 20,000 Amish, a culture that remains true to centuries-old traditions. A few days in Amish country will introduce you to delicious made-from-scratch meals, amazing craftsmanship, delightful theater works, tons of shopping, and horse-drawn carriage rides. You can take in the amazing works as you drive the Quilt Gardens along the Heritage Trail. Shipshewanna is home to the Midwest’s largest outdoor seasonal flea market where 700 vendors cover 40 acres of land selling everything from home decor and clothing to plants and tools. Take care when driving—buggies travel well under the speed limit.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Washington, DC

Beyond the traditional D.C. attractions—the Smithsonian museums, the U.S. Capitol, the monuments—you’ll find fresh food and cultural events. You can peruse a farmers market and take in the scenery from the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Plan to spend some time along the Tidal Basin, a 2-mile-long pond that was once attached to the Potomac River and serves as the backdrop to some of D.C.’s best-loved sites.

Shenandoah National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park

Distance from Washington, DC: 75 miles

Just 75 miles from the bustle of Washington, D.C., Shenandoah National Park is a land bursting with cascading waterfalls, spectacular vistas, fields of wildflowers, and quiet wooded hollows. With over 200,000 acres of protected lands that are haven to deer, songbirds, and black bear, there’s so much to explore. The Skyline Drive is one of the most beautiful drives in the US at any time of the year but especially during autumn. The picturesque 105-mile road travels through Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains where 75 overlooks welcome visitors to take in panoramic views of the Shenandoah wilderness.

Worth Pondering…

I’d rather wake up in the middle of nowhere than in any city on earth.

—Steve McQueen, actor

Considering a Summer Getaway? Tips for Reducing Your Risk during the Pandemic

If you’re looking for a COVID-friendly summer vacation, an RV road trip is a solid way to go

If the coronavirus has you going stir-crazy, there’s a good chance you’ve thought about taking an RV road trip. After all, an RV allows you to travel without exposing yourself to germy airports and hotels.

Your summer vacation plans probably look a little different this year. For many families, that may mean skipping the airport and loading up the RV for a family road trip. If you’re planning a trip before the end of summer, a little advance planning can go a long way toward making your vacation safe and fun for everyone.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fears about the coronavirus are forcing many people to rethink traditional air travel and hotel stays and look into recreational vehicles as a safer alternative. Some RV dealerships have seen an increase in sales of up to 170 percent and many customers are first-time buyers. In May, peer-to-peer rental service RVshare saw a 650 percent spike in bookings since the beginning of April.

Along a scenic route in eastern Tennessee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An RV allows you and your family to get out of the house while maintaining social distancing. It even allows you to avoid places you might feel uncomfortable being in like a hotel or restaurant. With an RV, you can bring everything with you!

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two types of RVs to consider: a motorhome that combines the living quarters and vehicle in one package and a travel or fifth-wheel trailer.

What should travelers take into account when deciding whether to travel?

Psychologically, people are getting tired, and it’s only natural to want to get away and go out. The first step is ‘How much risk you’re willing to tolerate?’ And that has to do with our own health condition but also the health conditions of the people around you. We have to be able to live with the virus to some degree and manage the risk that we take. A lot of it has to do with thinking of other people and how your actions impact your community. 

Dauphin Island, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are some forms of travel safer than others? Is it better to drive or to fly?

I don’t know that we can necessarily say one is less risky. If you’re going on a road trip, for example, and have a large number of other people with you then it defeats the purpose. The larger the group the greater the chance of being exposed to others who may be infected with the virus!

Along Utah Highway 12 Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When we talk about flying, a lot of airline companies have requirements in place for mask wearing, and they do health screening. But the risk of flying with people that we don’t know is higher than the risk of driving in an RV or car with people that we do know and that we live with. Looking at the risk overall, road trips with family members seems to be the safest at this point.

Trapp Family Lodge near Stowe, Vermont © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What precautions should a person take when planning a road trip?

The shorter distance you have to travel the better, especially if you have family with young children. You have to think about rest stops and bathroom breaks and where you’re going to be taking those. You have to think about where you’re going to be stopping to eat. The number of stops you make along the way increases the chances of being exposed to other individuals who may be infected.

Schulenburg, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Given the rise of COVID-19 cases across the country, should travelers be careful about when or where they go?

I think we can safely say that the coronavirus is everywhere, so I wouldn’t say that any place is 100 percent safe. Avoid traveling to areas where the number of cases are on the rise. Definitely look at being flexible in your plans and in your final destination.

Lakeside RV Park, Livingston, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here a several additional tips to help make your next road trip memorable—and prepare for whatever may come your way.

Pack smart and make a checklist. To avoid leaving any essentials at home, create a checklist a few weeks before you leave—and add to it as you think of new items.

Woods Hole on Cape Cod, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bring an atlas. Even though you haven’t used one in ages, keeping a road atlas in the RV and car is always a good idea. With an old-school paper map, you don’t have to worry about losing your GPS signal, heading down a non-existent road, or running out of battery. And if you have kids, they may enjoy tracking your travels.

Seaside, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your tires. Before you leave home, inspect the condition of your tires and inflate them to the pressure recommended by your vehicle’s manufacturer.

Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check your emergency kit. If you find yourself stranded, a well-stocked emergency kit could help you get back on the road quickly and safely. Pre-assembled kits are available for purchase, or you can assemble your own kit.

Worth Pondering…

If you wait for the perfect moment when all is safe and assured, it may never arrive. Mountains will not be climbed, races won, or lasting happiness achieved.

—Maurice Chevalier

Best Places for RV Travel this August

It’s time for the final hurrah of summer with peak sunshine

Like the preceding month, August is also named after another real person—Augustus, who was the first emperor of Rome and also the nephew of Julius Caesar. The month was originally supposed to be the sixth month, not the eighth, and was called Sextillis to reflect that.

Eleven Range Outlook, Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sunny days and warm weather are the norm and here are our top places to enjoy them.

What does your ideal summer look like: Hiking in a national park? Soaking up the sun on a white-sand beach? Enjoying outdoor activities in a state park? Whatever your dream summer RV trip, one of these destinations will fit the bill.

Badlands National Park © 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 MayJune, and July. Also check out our recommendations from August 2019.

Joshua Tree National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

California

From northern redwood forests to the High Sierra, the wild Big Sur coast to the expansive southern desert, you’re never very far from the next adventure in California. It’s a state with fabled drives—Highway 1 on the coast, 101 through the redwoods, 395 beneath the eastern Sierra—and national parks that need no introduction. But with 280 state parks and 18 national forests, the state has almost endless portals into wild country that suits pretty much anyone’s outdoor inclinations.

Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico

Artists, photographers, and moviemakers are crazy about New Mexico and the amazing quality of light which is why just naming the state conjures such familiar images for most of us. You know: huge, empty red-rock landscapes with big sunny skies and UFOs arrive on a regular schedule. But there’s more here, of course, including the dramatic Sangre de Cristo Range—the southernmost stretch of the Rockies—and ancient ruins of disappeared cultures. Whether you’re exploring high desert broken by mangled badlands, notching up trophy parks like Carlsbad Caverns, or diving deep into the 34 state parks or five national forests, you always feel you’re discovering something in New Mexico.

Penticton Channrl © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Float the Channel

August is the perfect month to go for a float down the Penticton (British Columbia) Channel. This quintessential Penticton bucket-list activity is fun for the whole family. Cool off in this gorgeous heat with your favorite floatie and friends as you enjoy a leisurely ride down the 4½-mile long channel. You can fill up your own flotation device or rent one from Coyote Cruises. They also provide shuttle transport back to the starting point. They also have some awesome new rental floaties and even some party floats for larger groups.

Menno-Hof Amish/Mennonite Information Center, Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana, Indiana

The Shipshewana area is celebrated for being home to the third largest Amish community in the United States, for having the Midwest’s largest flea market, and for its reputation of hand-crafted wares. Enjoy buggy rides, visit an Amish working dairy farm, and experience delicious Amish cooking in beautiful Northern Indiana-Amish/Mennonite Country.

Badlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Badlands National Park

Weathered and windswept, Badlands is a desolate yet phenomenal sight. Its layers of sedimentary rocks date back millions of years, resulting in an ancient, fossil-rich landscape of ridges, buttes, and canyons. Saber-toothed cats may no longer roam but the mixed-grass prairies support numerous animals including white-tailed deer and coyotes. Catch a glimpse from one of the easy boardwalk trails.

Grand Canyon Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Board the Grand Canyon Railway

You don’t have to be a train buff: One of the world’s great rail journeys is the Grand Canyon Railway. Departing from the historic Arizona town of Williams, it chugs each morning on a 65-mile journey north to Grand Canyon National Park. On the two-hour trip you’ll wind your way over Arizona’s 5,000-foot-high Colorado Plateau passing the red buttes, prairies, and pinyon pines of the high desert along its scenic route. Performers in authentic Wild West costumes bring the past alive with onboard (and, yes) touristy) entertainment. Passengers will have time to explore the South Rim and check out two century-old train depots before returning in the early evening.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

“‘Heat, ma’am!’ I said; ‘it was so dreadful here, that I found there was nothing left for it but to take off my flesh and sit in my bones.”

—Sydney Smith

Find Your Passion: What Type of Road Trip Is Right For You?

The open road is calling

After an unpredictable first half of 2020, we can all agree that we’re itching to travel. Road trips have been a huge summer trend in the current climate mainly because it’s safer than flying. You’re in complete control of your adventure—there’s no waiting in airport security lines, sitting in crowded spaces, or fees for missing your departure. There’s a sense of adventure that’s so satisfying, discovering all that America has to offer…right in your backyard.

Gettysburg National Military Park, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A recent survey conducted by Ford Motor Company found that people are really looking to reconnect with friends, family, and the great outdoors in their travels this summer. More than a third of the respondents ranked wanting to visit family or friends who live within driving distance as their top reason for taking a road trip. Considering the impact of social distancing and restrictions on being able to travel this makes sense. The survey also found that people are looking to slow down and make the most of their time away from home. More than 20 percent wanted to take a road trip just so they could explore and see the sights along the way to their destination.

Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planning an RV road trip has endless opportunities from camping beside a lake or river, visiting national parks, roadside attractions, tasting the local cuisine, or even taking some time for well-deserved relaxation. You’re not restricted to flying on a schedule, renting a car, and booking a hotel like other vacations. And it’s okay if it doesn’t go as planned—it might actually be more fun. Veering off on the road less traveled also makes for a great adventure. Not sure what type of road trip to take? Here are three different themes around which to plan your summer road trip.

El Moro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Park Road Trip

Yes, we all know the Grand Canyon (it’s breathtaking) and Joshua Tree (it’s amazing) but did you know that there are 419 National Park Service sites in America? Of these, 62 have a national park designation. Planning a road trip to visit national parks is for the history buff and outdoorsy type who enjoys hiking and camping.

Mount St. Helens National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Discover hidden gems like El Moro in New Mexico, Mount St. Helens in Washington, and Cumberland Island in Georgia. Explore the Mighty Five in Utah planning a camping adventure along the way. Chances are there are lesser-known national parks within a few hours of your home that you’ve never visited, possibly Cedar Breaks in Utah, Gettysburg in Pennsylvania, or Montezuma Castle in Arizona.

Texas BBQ © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste America Road Trip

As much as tourists want to see the sights, they also want to taste the local food. For the foodies out there, that’s what road trips revolve around. They’re known for finding the best restaurants, seeking out underground spots, and trying cuisine that they can’t get back home.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Creating a road trip around food can literally go anywhere. Definitely make some stops down south for some true southern hospitality. Texas barbecue pitmasters provide an excuse for a road trip to just about any far-flung corner of Texas.

Cracklins © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louisiana’s food is legendary. Rôder (pronounced row-day) in Cajun French means to roam, or run the roads and Lafayette is the perfect destination, Southern Living’s Tastiest Town in the South. Where else can you tour a rice plantation, a crawfish farm, and a pepper growing facility before enjoying a dish that combines them all? Avery Island’s Tabasco Experience is perhaps the most well-known foodie attraction. And the area also has its own Boudin Trail. Don’t miss the opportunity to chow down on dishes like crawfish etouffee, cracklins, and gumbo.

La Posta in Historic Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their unique cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile in both red and green varieties which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream and wine. Whether you’re looking for a dining experience that’s received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Woodford Reserve Distillery tour © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with food, add some brewery tour stops to explore local beer and spirits too. Take a trip on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail to discover heritage sites, working distillery tours, tasting rooms, a whiskey museum, and the rolling green pastures of Bluegrass Country.

Giant Peachoid © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Roadside Attractions

All manner of strange and interesting pit stops are found across the country. Road trips wouldn’t be nearly as exciting without these alluring, wacky, and fun landmarks. America plays host to some of the weirdest off-beat roadside attractions found anywhere. Check out these six strange roadside attractions on your next road trip across the country: Paisano Pete (giant roadrunner) in Fort Stockton, Texas; Peachoid in Gaffney, South Carolina; desert sculptors in Borrego Springs, California; World’s Largest Killer Bee in Hidalgo, Texas; World’s Largest Roadrunner in Las Cruces, New Mexico; and World’s Largest Pistachio in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

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

Better stock up on boudin and pork cracklins, kolache and doughnuts, and other snack foods—there are going to be many, many detours in your future.

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

No matter which way you road trip, you’ll get to see America through a lens that perhaps you didn’t experience before. After being kept home for months with previous trips cancelled, it’s a journey of self discovery and learning more about off-beat places in America. It will demonstrate that you don’t need to hop a plane and fly across the ocean to seek adventure. Who knows where the road will take you, but I’m sure it’ll make for a great story. And don’t forget your camera!

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.

—Eric Hansen

The Great American Road Trip: Born in 1856

Whitman describes a trip on which he is embarking. He describes himself as being “healthy and free,” and he realizes he is the only person who is in complete control of his life; he chooses his own destiny.

Afoot and lighthearted I take to the open road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Indian Creek Scenic Byway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Great American Road Trip was born in 1856 with the publication of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road.”

Or at least that’s how the idea of such a journey came into being since 164 years ago there were no states between Texas and California, let alone cars, highways, or motels. A traveler’s creature comforts back then consisted of liberty and opportunity.

Plano Bridge along the Painted Churches tour in Fayette County, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Whitman saw the (future) American Road Trip as a metaphor for democracy. In the new republic, a man had the freedom to go anywhere.

But for decades after Whitman’s poem, America’s “long brown paths” went nowhere.

A scenic drive in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1903, when Dr. Horatio Nelson Jackson, his dog Bud, and a mechanic named Sewall Crocker set out in a red Winton touring car to claim America for the automobile, barely 150 miles of paved road existed in the entire country. A friend had wagered Jackson $50 that it would take him at least three months to drive from San Francisco to New York. In the end, it took 62 days of hard slogging.

On the road to Mount St. Helens, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jackson’s feat quickly inspired imitators like the Murdocks, the first family to drive across America. In 1908, Jacob, Anna, and their three children successfully navigated the journey with the help of a personal mechanic for the car and a Winchester rifle for the coyotes.

Along Bush Highway, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not to be outdone, 22-year-old Alice Ramsey led the first all-female road trip in 1909, tearing across the country at speeds of up to 42 miles an hour—when not being towed by horses.

Sharing the road in Amish Country, Indiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road situation remained a literal mess when Dwight D. Eisenhower joined a military convoy on a trip across America in 1919. At times the drivers averaged a mere 6 miles an hour. Those two months on the road helped to convince the future president that a complete overhaul was needed. His answer was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 and the construction of the Interstate Highway System.

Driving Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The law spurred millions of Americans to take to the open road—and legions of filmmakers and novelists to write about it.

Explaining the point of “On the Road” (1957), Jack Kerouac wrote that the novel tried to recapture a sense of meanings—embarking “on a tremendous journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America.” 

Driving Montgomery to Wetumka, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

John Steinbeck took on a similar quest of rediscovery and reconnection—with his driving companion a poodle—and wrote about it in “Travels With Charley in Search of America” (1962). The author finished his journey with his hopes dashed, feeling lost, and worried about the rapid changes overtaking his country.

Schnebly Hill Road near Sedona, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Still, Steinbeck fared better than most film characters who attempt the Great American Road Trip. In “Easy Rider” (1969), Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper are pursued by murderous bigots; in “Thelma and Louise” (1991), the problem seems to be every American male.

On the road to Madera Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fortunately, today’s family road trips don’t lack for human comforts—just a full tank of fuel and a great playlist.

But oh, the options today!

Smartphones or music players can plug directly into the RV’s sound system with a USB cable or auxiliary.

Mokee Dugway, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And yet, there’s a lot to be gained from abandoning yourself to the mercies of local radio stations. It’s a chance to ride along, even briefly, with local color that’s otherwise passing too quickly outside the window—the DJ’s accent, charmingly quirky small town ads, music from artists not yet known beyond their part of the country.

Just a fleeting reminder that digital conveniences can deprive us of the analogue pleasure of immersing ourselves in somewhere new.

Worth Pondering…

The open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.