History Comes Alive At Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site

History comes alive at Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site where Creek Indians, French Marines, and American Soldiers all left their marks

Good morning on the last day of May. Or is it June? Are we in 2022 yet? What is time? Honestly, the only thing we know is that it’s Saturday. Have a great weekend everyone—thanks as always for reading. 

Located just south of Wetumpka on a forested bluff where the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers meet to form the headwaters of the Alabama River, we enjoyed 165 acres of living history and natural beauty. The park showcases recreated Creek Indian houses, a 1751 French fort, the partially restored 1814 American Fort Jackson, a nature trail, and a campground. This historic site is operated by the Alabama Historical Commission.

Graves House Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After paying our $2/person admission fee, our first stop was the early 19th-century Graves House Visitor Center. Restored to its original appearance, the building now houses a small gift shop and museum.

Creek Indian houses represent two primary types of domestic structures used in the historic period. The fully enclosed buildings are winter houses and the open structure is for summer use. Until 1763, the lands within the park boundaries were home to the Alabama. This tribe was a member of the Creek Confederacy and eventually left with the French at the end of the Seven Years War (French and Indian War). The state of Alabama was named after this tribe.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1717, when this region was part of French Louisiana, the French built a fort near the strategically vital junction where the Tallapoosa and Coosa Rivers form the Alabama River. The fort was primarily a trading post where Indians exchanged fur pelts for guns and household items. There were no battles at the post as French diplomacy forged allies with the natives. The surrounding Indians wanted peace so they could trade with both the French and British.

Creek Indian homes © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We wandered Fort Toulouse, a re-creation of the last or 3rd French fort built between 1749 and 1751. A National Historic Landmark, the outside walls are constructed of split timbers that were not strong enough to stop a cannon shot but were ample protection against musket fire. Fences enclose the sides and rear of the building. On the inside, posts sunk into the ground were joined with mortise and tenon joints. There were two barracks in the fort each had four rooms for use by the troops. Along the southern wall is an igloo-shaped bread oven.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The French lost the French and Indian War and the fort in 1763. The site was abandoned by the French and the lands reverted to native occupation. Few vestiges of the French post were visible when a new large earthen fort was erected in 1814 and named by General Thomas Pinckney for his subordinate General Andrew Jackson.

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Following the French abandonment of Fort Toulouse in 1763 at the end of the French and Indian War, the river valley was peaceful as first the British and then the American nations claimed the region but few white men came to the area. Relations between the white settlers and Native peoples deteriorated in the first decade of the Nineteenth Century. The U. S. and Great Britain were at odds and by late 1813 the Creek War and the War of 1812 were underway. 

Fort Toulouse © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Jackson had a moat that was seven feet deep and dirt walls ranging in height from 7 ½ feet to 9 feet high. When finished the fort contained barracks space to house 200 soldiers. A garrison was kept here as the focus of these armies changed to the war with the British and activities occurring on the Gulf Coast. During this time thousands of troops passed through the site on their way south.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In August of 1814, the Treaty of Fort Jackson was signed officially ending the Creek War. The Creeks agreed to give the U. S. more than twenty million acres as reparations for the war. This land was the majority of what became the State of Alabama.

Fort Jackson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The one-mile-long William Bartram Nature Trail winds along the ridgeline and river bottoms at the southern end of the park. Of particular note along its path is a marker dedicated to Sergeant Jean Louis Fontenot who served at Fort Toulouse from 1735 to 1754. Next, we saw a cemetery just off the trail. Only one marker remains. There is also a marker dedicated to William Bartram, the famous naturalist who passed through this area in 1775, further down the trail. The nature trail offers wonderful bird-watching opportunities. During the spring and fall, migrants are present thought out the site. 

Fort Toulouse-Fort Jackson State Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 39 site RV campground overlooks the Coosa River. Each site includes an electric and water hook-up, a grill, and a concrete picnic table. There is a centrally located shower and bathhouse, plus a refuse facility at the campground entrance. Current RV Rates are $20.00/night; $18.00/night for seniors age 65+ and active or retired military with ID.

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

—René Descartes

Meet Me in Historic Midway

Midway, Kentucky is the place that time forgot—but in a good way

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. Located midway between Frankfort and Lexington, Historic Midway was the first town in Kentucky founded by a railroad.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the town’s history began long before that when the area was inhabited by Indian Mound Builders. Two large Indian mounds have been identified on farms nearby Midway, as well as several smaller such structures in the outlying areas where they still exist today.

Settlers visited the area as early as 1771 when Kentucky was still part of Virginia. Many of them were surveyors and liked the land so well that they stayed. By 1788, residents successfully fought to break off from Fayette County to form Woodford County.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Nearly 45 years passed before the town of Midway came into existence. Then, when the Lexington and Ohio Railroad was incorporated in 1830, the town became a hub of activity with the accompanying construction. Lodging was needed for the railroad workmen as well as food, supplies, and other dry goods.

By 1832, the railroad carried its first passengers from Lexington with horse-drawn cars. The line was completed to Frankfort in 1834 and by January 1835 the first steam locomotive passed through Midway (also known as Middleway) from Lexington, bound for Frankfort.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Both cities celebrated the successful journey of the “Iron Horse” with a grand ball. Many accounts of those early years of the railroad-related tales of the engineers not only stopping for water and wood but also to open and shut farm gates since the train traveled through private pastures.

It was around this time that the town of Midway was surveyed and laid out by the railroad company. In honor of their work, many of the streets in Midway were named after the railroad company directors. These streets continue to exist today.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Midway continued to prosper along with the railroad. Electricity was introduced in 1911. In 1915, a fire destroyed a large part of the south side of Railroad Street. 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 (located where the caboose now stands) was closed in 1963. The last passenger train traveled through in May 1971.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Midway’s downtown followed the railroad’s fortunes and by the late 1960s and early 1970s, the few remaining businesses primarily served the local agricultural community.

Revitalization and rebirth began in the mid-1970s when several antique shops and galleries were established and the Midway I Village Guild was formed. In 1978, 176 buildings in Midway were placed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Now, Historic Midway once again thrives and enjoys its present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing. Several freight trains still make use of the active tracks running through Railroad Street, preserving Midway’s unique history and atmosphere.

Today, Midway continues to be a uniquely friendly and quaint town with a noticeable spirit. Among the cheery storefronts that line Main Street, you’ll find an array of antique shops, specialty boutiques, and restaurants with a little something for everyone.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

The town is a hangout for local and visiting horse enthusiasts who fill the tables at the Grey Goose bar and restaurant, come happy hour. So it’s no surprise that you’ll find lots of equine gifts and gear in the stores especially at Freedman’s leather shop. If bridles and bits aren’t your things, Freedman’s leather accessories—belts, wallets, and handbags, for example—are a notch above Ralph Lauren’s in both materials and workmanship.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Embellished with local shops, cozy tea rooms, restaurants, and beautiful local architecture, the streets of Midway offer visitors an exceptional, relaxing experience. Because of its special charm and small-town appeal visitors always leave Midway in high spirits and vow to return.

So it was with us.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights

Worth Pondering…

Surely it is the right wish that draws us to the right place.
Nothing of importance happens accidentally in our life.

—Lama Anagarika Govinda, The Way of the White Clouds

Must-See under the Radar Small Towns to Seek Out this Summer

Favorite lesser-known destinations from around America to consider for your summer adventure

The smaller towns in the United States feature many great locations to visit when looking for an underrated summer vacation. Each of the towns has its own standout attractions that will make for a good trip in your RV. These are ten small towns in America that should be on one’s travel bucket list.

Red Rock Canyon between Panguitch and Bryce Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Panguitch, Utah

Panguitch captures the enduring pioneer spirit of Utah with its welcoming rural charm and a strong sense of heritage. Much of the town’s main drag sits on the National Register of Historic Places and offers quaint, Western-themed local shopping and dining options. Panguitch is an important base camp for many of Southern Utah’s top natural attractions including Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks, two vast expanses of national forests (Fishlake and Dixie), two national monuments (Cedar Breaks and Grand Staircase-Escalante), and several state parks.

Medora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Medora, North Dakota

Situated in the Badlands, Medora has established itself as a popular destination despite having fewer than 200 residents. Visitors flock to Medora to visit outdoor attractions including Theodore Roosevelt National Park and the Bully Pulpit Golf Course to take in the sights and sounds of the American Frontier. Perhaps the town’s most notable and unique event is the annual Medora Musical. Every summer from June through early September, the town hosts a professionally produced musical celebrating President Theodore Roosevelt’s sojourn in the region.  

Wolfeboro © 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. Incorporated in 1770, it stakes its claim based on an early mansion built by Governor John Wentworth on what eventually became Lake Wentworth, just east of Winnipesaukee.

Shipshewana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shipshewana, Indiana

Many of the towns in Amish Country date back 150 years or more. Among these is tiny Shipshewana known for an enormous flea market where 1,000 vendors peddle their wares twice a week from May through October. Due to the Amish lifestyle, you can almost believe you’ve stepped back in time a century or more. To learn about Amish history, tour Menno-Hof. Through multi-image presentations and historical displays, you’ll travel back 500 years to the origins of the Amish-Mennonite story.

Midway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Midway, Kentucky

Some of our most pleasant moments always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else. So it was when we unexpectedly came upon the historic town of Midway. 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 present reputation as one of Kentucky’s favorite spots for antiques, crafts, gifts, restaurants, and clothing.

Keystone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keystone, South Dakota

You may not have heard of this little town of less than 350, but if you’re planning a road trip to one of America’s most iconic monuments, chances are you’ll drive through its winding streets or rent a room in one of its many lodges and resorts. Located a short drive from Mount Rushmore, this former mining town has successfully pivoted to become a desirable destination for tourists, while maintaining its small-town charm.

Folly Beach © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Folly Beach, South Carolina

Folly Beach is one of America’s last true beach towns. Just minutes from historic downtown Charleston, Folly Beach is a 12 square mile barrier island that is packed with things to do, see, and eat. Surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Folly River, visitors enjoy six miles of wide beaches, surfing, fishing, biking, kayaking, boating, and eco-tours. Folly Island was named after its coastline which was once densely packed with trees and undergrowth: the Old English name for such an area was “Folly.”

Williams © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Williams, Arizona

West of Flagstaff in the Coconino County, Williams is on the historic Route 66 and at the southern terminus of the Grand Canyon Railway. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, Williams is named after a mountain man called William “Old Bill” Williams. A popular destination for tourists, there are many fun activities to keep you entertained here in Williams.

Tour historic Route 66—Williams was the last town to have its section bypassed. Check out the Williams Depot and see a steam locomotive before wandering the historic Business District.

Woods Hole © 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. Woods Hole is the epicenter of marine and biological science in the US with more than five major science institutions headquartered here (WHOI, MBL, NOAA, SEA, and Woods Hole Research Center).

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. Everything from wine to cheese to chocolate, art, and fine dining.

Worth Pondering…

Here and there…not quite everywhere yet!

Cool Camping: Practical Steps for Staying Cool in your RV

Summer is upon us. In fact, as Walter Winchell wrote “It’s a sure sign of summer if the chair gets up when you do.”

The Pacific Northwest is in one of the most intense heat waves ever recorded with the worst still to come. Portland, Oregon, hit 112 degrees Sunday (June 27) shattering the previous record by 5 degrees. Seattle set a record high, hitting 104 degrees the same day, breaking the previous record by 1 degree. Seattle also experienced it’s first back-to-back 100 degree days in history and then hit the hat trick Monday. The Western North American heat wave also extends into Northern California, Nevada, and Idaho.

Sacramento River at Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Americans are not alone in feeling overheated. The same high-pressure system baking in the northwestern United States has also produced record-breaking heat in Western Canada.

On June 28, the temperature in Lytton, British Columbia, a town of fewer than 300 in the Fraser Canyon, hit 118.2 degrees smashing Canada’s old national heat record of 113 degrees. That’s 1 degree hotter than it’s ever been in Las Vegas, 1,300 miles to the south, and hotter than the all-time record highs for 31 states including several in the South. And by Tuesday, the temperature in Lytton soared to 121 degrees. Lytton is at 50 degrees N latitude.

As sad aftermath to these heat records, the fires then swept in. By 6 pm. Wednesday Lytton’s residents had been ordered to evacuate as explosive wildfires neared. As of this morning (Friday), the village lies in ashes. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the residents of this devastated community.

The Okanagan Valley in British Columbia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, on June 27, local records were set in areas such as Ashcroft (110.8 degrees) and Kamloops (111 degrees); in all, 59 weather stations in British Columbia set records for hottest temperatures recorded for that date. These were largely beaten in the following days (Kamloops, for instance, registered 114.4 degrees on June 28 and 117.1 degrees on June 29).

On June 28, records were set in Abbotsford at 109.2, Victoria at 103.6, and Port Alberni at 108.9. As of June 29, 103 all-time heat records were set across Western Canada, including east of the Rocky Mountains. In Alberta, Banff (97.9 degrees), Edmonton (100 degrees), Jasper (102.4 degrees), and Grande Prairie (104.4 degrees) have all seen the strongest heat ever measured in these communities. Nahanni Butte, Northwest Territories also set a regional record at 100.6 degrees.

Quail Creek State Park in Utah Dixie © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Amid these extreme weather conditions, this is prime travel time, the season for putting endless miles of road in the rearview mirror of your travel trailer, motorhome, or fifth wheel. Most RV excursions take place during the hottest months of the year and even RVs with excellent climate-control systems can get hot and stuffy. Here are some tips on staying cool when you hit the road—no matter the weather outside.

RVers want to stay cool. Whether you spend most of your time in the rig or simply want a cool, comfortable home to return to at the end of the day. The first and most obvious remedy is a good air conditioning unit. That unit, however, is only as good as the power on which it runs. 

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument in southern Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just as the right hookups are important to a functioning AC, so, too, is regular and diligent maintenance. Having a functioning AC unit in your RV during the summer months is crucial and that’s why it’s imperative to keep your AC unit in ship shape by performing regular cleaning and maintenance, to get ahead of any major issues before they start. Regularly changing any filter screens and giving the entire unit a once-over can go a long way.

But even with the AC on, taking certain considerations to stay cool can benefit the comfort level inside your rig. When it comes to staying cool in your RV, there are a handful of surprisingly simple tips that go a long way.

Trees offer shade from the intense summer sun at Jeckyl Island Campground in Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Selecting your RV site with care helps to prevent it from getting hot in the first place. This sounds obvious, but it still needs to be stated: park in the shade if you can. The shade provided by large trees, hills, or even buildings can make a huge difference in the internal temperature of your RV. Sites facing the southwest should be avoided and make every effort to ensure that the refrigerator is in the shade. Avoiding direct sunlight and keeping your shades and blinds closed can make a huge difference. On a shady and cooler day, open the windows to let fresh air in and to make sure there’s enough ventilation in the RV. You may also consider upgrading to dual-pane windows which will also be beneficial for winter camping.

World’s Largest Roadrunner at Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New technologies are changing the way RVs are powered and cooled and while some of the technologies are still emerging, many RVers have added solar to their RVs roof and invested in the latest battery technology. Being truly self-contained is on the way as RVs get adequate electricity to run air conditioners, microwaves, and other devices in the RV. With the new battery technology coming, help is on the way.

If you’ve done your best to prevent your RV from heating up in the first place and turned on your AC to cool it down, then there are other simple things you can do to help KEEP your RV cool.

Amelia Island, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cover your roof vents with a reflective surface. Foam-based vent fillers that are tucked inside ceiling vents are available at most RV dealers. They help to reflect the sun’s rays off your RV. Their insulating abilities help your RV stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Don’t forget your shower skylight.

Extend your awning to help shade your RV (if it’s on the sunny side). This will not only shade the windows on that side of your RV but the walls too.

Put a bowl of ice in front of a table fan. The air passing over the ice water gets chilled and provides some relief. And if you don’t have any ice then a damp cloth placed over the fan will have a similar cooling effect.

Expect hot summers and warm winters in Laughlin, Nevada © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the exterior door closed and try to minimize frequent openings. Opening the door repeatedly allows the hot outdoor air to enter your RV.

Avoid using the stove or oven. On hot days, plan to use your outdoor kitchen or campfire to cook meals or eat meals that don’t require cooking such as sandwiches and salads.

If your RV has incandescent light bulbs or halogen lights, turn them off as they emit heat. Consider installing LED lights which give you light (obviously) but they don’t release heat.

Summers are hot along the Lower Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Keep the windows closed during the daytime to prevent hot air from infiltrating your RV but open up the windows at night if you are camping in a place with cool evenings.

One of the most important ways to prevent heat-related illnesses is to drink plenty of water (most experts suggest eight glasses per day. Plain water is the best way to hydrate, no second-guessing necessary. But that can be hard to do when water tastes so…watery. Fortunately, it’s possible to get hydration from a variety of drinks but be careful that you’re not having too much of the ones that dehydrate.

Saguaro Lake, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Consuming any kind of liquor removes water from your tissues, meaning you have to drink even more water to offset the effects. As a general rule of thumb, the higher the alcohol content, the more dehydrating your drink is.

Curious to see which beverages are the best for keeping enough fluid in you? The following six are hands-down your best hydrating choices: water, milk, fruit-infused water, fruit juice, watermelon, and sports drinks.

Chilie peppers in Hatch Valley, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eat spicy food. Capsaicin, a compound in chilies that gives them a kick, triggers a response in your nervous system that makes your face sweat and cools you down.

Symptoms of heat illness include dizziness/fainting, nausea/vomiting, rapid breathing and heartbeat, extreme thirst, and decreased urination with unusually dark urine. Age can make you more vulnerable to heat stress. Babies, young children, and seniors are less able to sweat and adjust to changes in temperature.

Staying cool at Lake Pleasant, Arizona

And finally, additional tips to stay safe in extreme heat include:

  • Avoid the direct sun as much as possible
  • Avoid strenuous activity and exercise
  • Avoid sunburn and wear sunscreen with SPF 30 or higher on exposed skin and an SPF 30 lip balm
  • Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing, UV-blocking sunglasses, and a wide-brimmed hat (I prefer a Tilley)

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

Epic Road Trips for this Summer and Beyond

A few of my favorite driving vacations across America

According to a recent survey of more than 1,500 Americans, commissioned by car rental company Hertz, more than 80 percent plan to take a road trip this summer, and 86 percent agreed they are more likely or as likely to hit the road compared to previous years. While local COVID restrictions remain a factor when preparing for a vacation, 52 percent of respondents plan to resume travel as early as June. Domestic travel will be key as 74 percent said they would stay in the U.S. including 42 percent planning to visit the South and, 32 percent visiting the West.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With the pandemic in retreat, many Americans are heading out on the open road eager to rediscover the country. Why not join them in an RV?

The following collection of road trips features intriguing routes and destinations from South Carolina to Arizona. There’ll be encounters with history in Charlestown and Savannah, natural wonders to explore in the Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest, and good food in Baton Rouge and New Orleans. It’s a moveable feast for a nation on the move once more.

Charleston © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Deliciously Diverting Road Trips through the Deep South

A Deep South road trip is a fantastic way to experience the sights, food, and culture of the South. Some of the best southeast destinations are New Orleans, Charleston, and Savannah. When you set out to drive to New Orleans you’re better off taking it slow. You could drive from Nashville to New Orleans’s French Quarter in less than eight hours but what a pity that would be. Opt instead to take a slower, far more scenic route.

Charlestonn © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first road trip starts in Nashville. Before leaving Music City consider exploring a few of the city’s unique neighborhoods including Opryland/Music Valley, East Nashville, and Germantown. Learn about the state’s history at the (free!) Tennessee State Museum and hit some balls at Topgolf.

Ambrosia Bakery, Baton Rouge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On this amazing tour from Tennessee through Mississippi and Louisiana you’ll be passing through sultry small towns that invite you to linger and enough poignant sites of American history to keep you engaged. Chief among them: the Mississippi towns of Tupelo, Oxford, and Natchez. From there drop into Louisiana for a po’boy sandwich and pecan praline cheesecake at Ambrosia Bakery in Baton Rouge before arriving in New Orleans to partake of its everlasting party. You can never run out of things to see in New Orleans, the most popular destination in the Bayou State, and for good reason. The music is magnificent and the architecture amazing. It isn’t called the Big Easy for nothing. Then there’s the food—an unapologetic celebration of simple carbohydrates.

Middleton Place © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another amazing Deep South road trip itinerary includes Charleston and Savannah. Charleston is the perfect place for your first stop. Charleston exudes Southern charm. Meander cobblestone streets lined with elegant mansions, a vibrant downtown with eclectic shops, arts and culture, music, and nightlife. The Historic Charleston City Market which spans four blocks is brimming with food, art, sweetgrass baskets, clothing, toys, jewelry, crafts, and so much more from over 300 vendors. It has a food scene that is one of the best in the country and there is a lot to see and do. Savor diverse cuisine from around the world and Southern specialties like fresh oysters, crab cakes, and pan-roasted boat catch. Save room for decadent desserts.

Magnolia Plantation © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are also a number of museums and old houses that are worth visiting including Charleston Museum and the Old Slave Mart Museum which offers an emotional but realistic look into life as a slave. Head out of town and visit some of the old plantation homes around Charleston. There are four within a twenty minute drive of the city: Magnolia Plantation, Boone Hall Plantation, Middleton Place Plantation, and Drayton Hall.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Heading on to Savannah—Georgia’s first city, founded in 1733—succumb to the Gothic charms (iron gates, massive, moss-covered oak trees) that have enchanted writers such as Flannery O’Connor and John Berendt (You can tour the sites made famous from his book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, such as the Mercer Williams House and the Bonaventure Cemetery). Spend a few nights at CreekFire Motor Ranch, Savannah’s newest RV park, and take your time wandering this many-storied city. About 20 minutes west of downtown Savannah, you can have fun and excitement when you want it—and relaxation and solitude when you need it.

Savannah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Savannah has a totally different vibe to Charleston and there’s plenty to see and do here as well. Taking a tour around Savannah in a horse-drawn carriage is a fun way to see the city. It’s one of the most popular Savannah tourist attractions. They also have a guide that will tell you about the unique landmarks and about all of the historic homes you pass.

If you tack an additional 20 minutes onto your journey, you can check out laid-back Tybee Island with its tiny cottages, five miles of tidal beaches, the tallest lighthouse in Georgia, and camping at River’s End Campground.

Historic Route 66 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time Travel to the Old West

Any list of cross-country trips should include Route 66, the country’s “Mother Road” between the Midwest and California before the Interstate Highway System. It’s going back in time! On this 2,448-mile-long drive, you’ll pass by iconic monuments like the St. Louis Gateway Arch and quirky roadside attractions like Illinois’s 1924 Ariston Café and the Cadillac Ranch art installation in Amarillo, Texas.

Petrified Forest National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Arizona, slight detours will take you to Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest national parks. If there’s one place you’re planning to go when you visit Arizona, there’s a good chance it’s the Grand Canyon. It’s the most popular of all of these great road trips in the Southwest and with good reason! It’s one of the seven natural wonders of the world and a truly awe-inspiring place to visit. Standing over the canyon, it seems to go on forever! It’s a striking place to visit and nowhere else will you feel so small, in a good way.

Painted Desert © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Petrified Forest National Park you’ll find remains of a colorful prehistoric forest, some of the logs more than 100 feet long and up to 10 feet in diameter. But there’s so much more: artifacts of the ancient indigenous people who lived here including the remains of large pueblos and massive rock art panels, fossils of plants and animals from the late Triassic period (the dawn of the dinosaurs), and a striking and vast Painted Desert (a badland cloaked in a palette of pastel colors).

Wigwam Motel © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spend the night in Holdbrook’s real cool Wigwam Motel comprised of 15 large wigwam sleeping units and vintage cars including a 1932 Studebaker and an RV. Continue on to Kingman and visit the old powerhouse which has been converted to a Route 66 Museum and visitor’s center. The Powerhouse Building is also home to Arizona’s Route 66 Association. Tucked away on a very old section of Route 66, Oatman is about 25 miles from Kingman. As with most mining towns of the Old West, Oatman is a shadow of its former self. Upon entering the historic old downtown, visitors are greeted by wild burros that roam up and down the main street hoping to get a healthy snack.

In California, you’ll pass near the desert wilds of Joshua Tree and Death Valley national parks before concluding the trip in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Pier on the Pacific Ocean.

Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Time Out on the Third Coast

It’s got to be the easiest “long” drive in Texas: south from Austin on U.S. Highway 183—Lockhart, Luling, Gonzales, Cuero, and Goliad; State Route 339 to Tivoli and 35 to Rockport. One of the reasons to enjoy U.S. 183 so much is that it’s not a very modern road, not efficient in the Point-A-to-Point-B way that interstates are. In fact, for much of its length in this part of the state, it follows the old stage route from San Antonio to Indianola, winding, and dipping, crossing rivers and creeks at natural fords. If the verdant roadside landscape and gentle hills aren’t distraction enough, there are the Victorian courthouse squares along the way. Every one of those towns—with the exception of Tivoli—has one.

Presidio la Bahia, Goliad © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highway 183 means a trip into history. The first shots of the Texas Revolution were fired near Gonzales and in Goliad, you will pass Mission Nuestra Señora del Espíritu Santo de Zúñiga on the right (now a state park) and Presidio la Bahia established in 1749 on the left. The Capilla or chapel (Our Lady of Loreto) has been in continuous use as a church since about the time of the signing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence. It was at Goliad that the Mexican Army on the orders of Gen. Antonio López de Santa Anna massacred 342 captured Texas soldiers on Palm Sunday in 1836. A monument marks their gravesite.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here too, some seven years before the Goliad massacre, Ignacio Seguín Zaragoza was born. Zaragoza would go on to lead the Army of the East to victory over French forces at the Battle of Puebla, Mexico on May 5, 1862. Cinco de Mayo, a national holiday in Mexico, is still celebrated here.

Just past the presidio, it’s a left on State Highway 239, a half-hour drive along the San Antonio River Valley and through the pastures and grain fields of O’Connor Ranch to Tivoli.

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then it’s a right on State Highway 35—a flat, straight drive through the cotton fields and rust-red acres of sorghum. To the right near a rest stop stands a sabal palm, remnant of one of just three native species of palm that once flourished here. Farther ahead to the left is Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, winter home to most of the world’s population of whooping cranes.

You’ll cross the causeway at Lamar Point to Rockport-Fulton‘s towering, twisted oak trees (the town is built on aptly named “Live Oak Peninsula”). RV parks here are plentiful.

Port Aransas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive out State Highway 361 and onto the ferry for the short boat ride to Port Aransas and check out the sights: the World War II gun emplacements overlooking the Gulf beach and channels (German U-boats were active in the area early in the war), the University of Texas Marine Science Institute and its modest aquaria, and The Tarpon Inn whose lobby walls are covered in trophy tarpon scales dating back to the beginning of the 20th century. President Franklin D. Roosevelt fished here and a signed scale and photo grace the walls.

The sunset paints the water deep, liquid blues and golds and pinks. A quick jaunt to Mustang Island State Park and then it’s back into Rockport to your campsite.

Rockport-Fulton © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sun and surf, music and food, and the glory of an unwinding road!

Worth Pondering…

I hear the highway calling. It’s time for a road trip.

Road Trip Inspiration

The summer of 2021 is going to be all about road trips

Many Americans and Canadians are planning their next road trip right now. Planning a trip is actually good for you. Nearly every respondent (97 percent) to a survey from Destination Analysts said having a trip planned makes them happier overall. Plus, 71 percent of respondents reported feeling greater levels of energy knowing they had a trip planned in the next six months.

A study recently released by the vacation rental house website Vrbo states, “Families are making up for travel time lost during the pandemic. According to Vrbo, 82 percent of families have vacation plans for this year, evidence of that pent-up demand for travel. Whether it’s by RV or auto, road trips are expected to be the number one vacation choice for most of us this year.

The United States and Canada are made for road trips with beautiful scenery and wide-open spaces, making it easy to socially distance along the way. To kick off the Year of the Road Trip, I’ll feature a special itinerary focusing on bucket list destinations that feature some of the most spectacular locations as well as some lesser-known places yet to be discovered.

Icefields Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Scenic Drive of a Lifetime

Linking Lake Louise with Jasper is one of the most beautiful journeys on the planet—the Icefields Parkway (Highway 93). Rated as one of the top drives in the world by Condé Nast Traveler, the Icefield Parkway is a 145 mile stretch of double-lane highway winding along the Continental Divide through soaring rocky mountain peaks, icefields, and vast sweeping valleys.

Columbia Icefields © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway is dotted with more than 100 ancient glaciers, cascading waterfalls, dramatic rock spires, and emerald lakes set in huge valleys of thick pine and larch forests.

Just as the name implies these glaciers or “fields of ice” are the largest south of the Arctic Circle. They are 80,000 acres in area and 328 to 1,197 feet in depth and receive up to 23 feet of snowfall per year.

Glacial Skywalk © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier Sky Walk, opened in May 2014, is a unique experience that puts you on a glass-floored observation platform 918 feet over the Sunwapta Valley. The entire experience starts with a walk along the Discovery Trail. If you are not into heights, you can still view the Sunwapta Valley from a look-out point nearby.

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taste Your Way through the Okanagan

Imagine a valley floor filled with a 90 mile-long lake, wildlife including bighorn sheep, cougars and rattlesnakes, rainfall of fewer than 12 inches a year but with the greatest concentration of wineries and orchards, you can imagine. The Okanagan Valley is the heart of British Columbia’s grape-growing region and boasts more than 130 licensed wineries. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles, across distinct sub-regions, each with different soil and climate conditions suited to a range of varietals. 

Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two towns are standouts for their concentration of vineyards and wineries: Oliver (named for long-ago British Columbia Premier John Oliver) and Osoyoos (which shares a name with one of seven Okanagan tribes (called “bands” in Canada); pronounce it “oo-SUE-yooze”. Together the towns boast 39 wineries that extend from the lush valley into the semi-arid mountains that surround the area. Prior to the development of the wine industry, almost all of the agricultural land in the Oliver area was planted first to ground crops and later to fruit trees such as cherries, apples, apricots, and peaches.

Add to this the Okanagan’s natural beauty (it’s a hallowed summer-vacation spot for Western Canadians), its wide range of non-wine-related things for the whole family to do—from riding the century-old Kettle Valley steam train and swimming in those pristine lakes to biking and hiking, and its lush orchards selling juicy peaches and cherries on the roadside—and you’ve got a wine-country experience like no other.

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before becoming a wine destination, the Okanagan was a family holiday spot, best known for its “beaches and peaches”—the lakes with their sandy shores, boating, and waterskiing as well as the countless farm stands offering fresh produce and fruit. The beaches and peaches—and cherries, apricots, and apples—are still there, and the Okanagan still welcomes families. But now the RV also comes back loaded with cases of wine.

Wells Gray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Land of 41 Breathtaking Waterfalls and Counting

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 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.

Wells Gray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 the Clearwater Valley Road.

So you might be wondering: Why are there so many waterfalls in the same small area? And how did they form? It turns out the waterfalls in Wells Gray use the same secret formula as another favorite waterfall destination, Iceland: volcanoes + glaciers = waterfall magic.

Wells Gray © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The whole Wells Gray area is part of a massive volcanic complex that dumped lava over the landscape, which hardened into lava rock called basalt. During the last ice age, glaciers covered the basalt. When the volcanoes erupted underneath the glaciers, the ice melted, causing huge floods that carved deep river canyons.

Seven of the Park’s waterfalls originate on the Murtle River, but perhaps none are more famous than Helmcken Falls, and the very reason Wells Gray Park exists. The fourth largest waterfall in Canada, Helmcken cascades 462 feet to the canyon below. The fact you can access it just steps from the road is really an added bonus. The viewing platform hangs over the lip of the canyon providing a panoramic view of the Murtle River tumbling in the distance. For an up-close-and-personal view of the falls, strike out on a one-hour hike along the Rim Trail where you’ll find waterfall views seen mostly by birds.

Bakersfield Gate © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ever Walked the Streets of Bakersfield?

Despite its size, Bakersfield, California, is a large small town. It has the conveniences and amenities of a large urban area, but visitors comment on others smiling and saying ‘hello.’ With music, festivals, outdoor activities, performs arts and sports, there are ample activities for visitors to explore and reasons for a return visit.

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bakersfield’s historic and primary industries are oil and agriculture. Oil was discovered in 1865; by 1870 more than 600 people called Bakersfield home. In the 1930s, Bakersfield saw a surge in population from those fleeing the Dust Bowl. In 2013 Kern County produced more oil than any other county in America. Kern County is a part of the highly productive San Joaquin Valley and ranks in the top five most productive agricultural counties in the U.S. Major crops for Kern County include grapes, citrus, almonds, carrots, alfalfa, cotton, and roses.

The city gained fame in the late 1950s and early 1960s for the Bakersfield Sound, an electric guitar-driven subgenre of country music that commercially dominated the industry for more than a decade. Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, and Dwight Yoakam were its best-known stars.

Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Buck first recorded “Streets of Bakersfield” in 1972 and re-recorded it in 1988 as a duet with Dwight Yoakam, again hitting No. 1.

Opening in 1996, Buck Owens’ Crystal Palace is a must-see for visitors to Bakersfield. The all-in-one restaurant, museum, and music venue spotlights the rich history of the Bakersfield Sound and the career of Buck Owens. The Palace is home to countless items of memorabilia from Owens’ early days to his time as co-host of Hee-Haw and his final years as a living legend. Until his passing in 2006 Owens would perform each weekend for fans that came from across the globe to pay homage to the star. 

Blue Bell Creamery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This way to the Little Creamery

Founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company, Blue Bell began operation making butter. In 1911, ice cream for local consumption began production. Ice cream distribution was limited to the small town of Brenham in the Brazos River country of south-central Texas about 70 miles west of Houston. As transportation improved, distribution expanded. The company name was changed to Blue Bell Creameries in honor of a Texas wildflower in 1930. A reproduction of one of the first route trucks, a 1932 Ford, sits outside company headquarters.

Blue Bell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rest is history! Blue Bell ice cream flavors are often the exciting grand finale to any celebration. The products are now sold in 22 states according to its website. That’s quite a change for a company that still promotes itself as a small town business selling a locally produced product. “We eat all we can and sell the rest,” one of the company’s favorite marketing slogans says.

Blue Bell © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The century-old, Brenham-born brand offers a wide variety of ice creams, sherbets, and frozen snacks. Ice cream flavors include 25 classic year-round options like cookie two-step, mint chocolate chip, and pistachio almond. As well as rotational limited-time flavors like fudge brownie decadence, spiced pumpkin pecan, and confetti cake. And yes, I’ve tried them all!

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your National Park Vacation

Transportation tips, camping advice, and other details you need to know

Summer is almost here and for many, that means it’s time to start planning that long-awaited road trip. With 237 million visitors in 2020, national parks are some of the most popular destinations as they provide a unique opportunity to connect with nature while being socially distanced at the same time. But there are nuances that can make or break your visit to a national park and they don’t reveal themselves until you’re actually there—which can be too late.

Shuttle stop at Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At Zion National Park in Utah you may find yourself surrounded by crowds packing into shuttles; the vibe more theme park, not nature at its best. A visit during the offseason is a completely different experience. Arriving before peak-season shuttle service begins allows you to tour the park in your own vehicle. Camp on-site, roll out of bed early for hikes and experience the Zion you imagine—tranquil and sublime. 

Driving White Sands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

How to get around national parks

There’s no way around it, you’ll absolutely need wheels to explore. National parks can cover vast swaths of land and some, like Yellowstone, stretch across multiple states.

When planning your park visit, take time to look at maps of your destination on the National Park Service website. These maps generally do a good job of letting you know how many miles separate different points and sometimes include time estimates for traveling between various park entrances.

Numerous days are needed to explore Canyonlands National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Give yourself multiple days to explore

As you study maps, you may notice that national parks have distinct areas. Sometimes they connect but sometimes they don’t. You may also be surprised to find you could lose most of a day moving between them.

Although Canyonlands is one park, it’s divided into four regions—three districts (Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze) plus the Green and Colorado Rivers that divide them up. It takes hours to travel from one district to another so most people focus on one area per visit.

It can take two hours to drive between Island in the Sky and the Needles; plan on six hours to the Maze. Most people only make it to Island in the Sky but experienced trail drivers with four-wheel drive vehicles may also want to experience the remote beauty of the Maze. If that’s you, plan for multiple days.

Pinnacles National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When driving to Pinnacles National Park, keep in mind that there is no road that connects the east and west entrances of the park. The shortest route from the east entrance to the west entrance (or from west to east) is through the town of King City on US 101, a drive of just under two hours.

But at Joshua Tree National Park in California, two deserts run into each other. It’s hard to tell the difference unless you know that the park’s namesake trees don’t grow in the Colorado Desert but their Seussian forms scatter the Mojave. Absent that indicator, though, the transition between the neighboring ecosystems is seamless as you drive along the main park road.

Joshua tree in the national park of the same name © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Check vehicle restrictions if you’re driving an RV

Some national parks are suitable for RVs. Arches, White Sands, and Joshua Tree are easy to explore in an RV as the elevation gain is gentle and it’s easy to stop at overlooks and points of interest along the way. Other parks may NOT permit large vehicles in certain sections, especially roads with switchbacks and hairpin turns. If renting, you may want to reconsider the size of the RV as it may mean a must-see feature will have to come off your itinerary.

Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana’s Glacier National Park is a great example. There, all vehicles (including any attached trailers) can only be up to 21 feet long and 10 feet tall which is smaller than most RVs. 

No matter what park you’re visiting, a small RV makes it easier to park at trailheads where designated spots for RVs are scarce or non-existent. Going small just might save you from having to skip the hike of your dreams.

Camping in Devils Garden Campground, Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tips for staying inside national parks

Among the most convenient, immersive ways to see a national park is to camp in it. Doing so makes it easier to go on early morning hikes or do some stargazing. There is no shortage of camping locations in the National Park Service—there are over 130 park units to choose from.

The majority of the 500 campsites in Joshua Tree are available by reservation. Reservations can be made up to six months in advance and can be booked on recreation.gov. Reserving a site is highly recommended. The park offers five campgrounds including Black Rock (99 sites), Cottonwood (62 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites). Jumble Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites). Be aware that not all campgrounds have water or a dump station.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pinnacles Campground is accessed only from the east side of the Park as there are no connecting roads between the two entrances of Pinnacles. The campground offers tent and group camping along with RV sites. Each tent and group site has a picnic table and fire ring. Most RV sites have electrical hookups and share community tables and barbecue pits. Water is located throughout the campground. Oak trees provide shade at many campsites. Coin-operated showers and a dump station are available.

Devils Garden Campground is the only campground at Arches National Park. You can reserve campsites for nights between March 1 and October 31. During this busy season, the campground is usually full every night. Between November and February, campsites are first-come, first-served. If you’re unable to snare a reservation at Devils Garden, you’ll need to look for an RV park in nearby Moab.

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

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. The Lava Point Campground is an hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Situated at 7,890 feet, Lava Point Campground is typically open May through September, as weather allows.

South Campground and Watchman Campground (for reservations call 877-444-6777 or visit recreation.gov) are near the south entrance at Springdale. This part of the park is desert. There are few trees to provide relief from the heat. Some campsites get shade for part of the day but many get no shade at all. Summer temperatures exceed 95 degrees; staying cool is a challenge. From mid-March through late November the campgrounds are full almost every night.

Potwisha Campground in Sequoia National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Accommodations outside a national park

While staying on-site is a unique experience, your road trip can still be amazing if you stay off-site. For best results, give yourself more time than you think you need. If you choose to stay in a charming town near your chosen park, you’ll need to account for travel time between the two plus the wait time to enter the park itself.

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Always bring food 

Given the amount of time you’ll spend inside your chosen park, there’s no guarantee you’ll find something to eat. At some parks, you’ll be lucky to locate a protein bar at the visitor’s center while others have their own grocery stores. So whether you’re staying on-site or traveling by car, make sure to bring a packed cooler and extra food. If you’re touring in an RV, stock the fridge. Even if you find your park has provisions available, you probably won’t want to spend precious time standing in line at the register when you could be out there becoming one with nature.

Heavy snowfall in the Sierras closes Lassen Volcanic National Park during winter © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Timing your visit

Expectations go a long way toward a great first experience and timing is the key. Seasonal closures happen and you’ll also want to check for any permits or waiting lists for iconic hikes. About a week before your planned visit, scan the websites for the parks you’ll be touring for any park alerts. Even if you can’t time your trip for when your chosen park is fully open, its beauty will still shine through—just a glimpse is enough to know you’ve visited a special place on Earth.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Jimmy Im

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