The Absolutely Most Amazing Winter Road Trips

Historically, winter RV trips are not the norm—but this year has been anything but normal

At a time when many industries are experiencing record lows and astronomical budget cuts, recreational vehicle sales are up—and not just by a little bit. Year-end totals for 2020 are predicted to hover around 425,000 units—nearly a 5 percent gain from 2019. And, 2021 predictions are looking even brighter with most estimates creeping near a 20 percent increase over 2020.

Capitol Reef National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The pandemic has introduced a new audience to the world of RVs, once the province of the baby boomer generation. Younger folks are driving the trend, gravitating toward smaller camper vans and vehicles under 30 feet in length. The new buyers don’t often have experience, either.

Sandhill cranes at Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the first time we’re seeing people buy the products sight unseen. They’re paying for the vehicle online, getting it delivered to their home, and getting out there for the first time in their lives.

But there is another significant difference, too: Buyers are interested in extending the travel season. According to a 2020 impact survey conducted by Thor Industries, nearly 50 percent of respondents said they were still planning trips in October and November, a clear indication that consumers are eager to make up for lost time.

Blanco State Park, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter road trips are possible, as long as travelers take the necessary precautions. Plan ahead when looking for places to camp since many designated campgrounds close for the winter. This means many travelers will boondock or camp off-the-grid without connections to power or water sources. If you’ll be adventuring in extremely cold conditions, consider adding additional insulation to holding tank areas and running your thermostat higher to keep the vehicle warmer and avoid frozen water lines. It’s a good idea to take a cold-weather practice run to understand the capabilities of your new RV.

Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To get you started in planning a winter journey, check out the five winter RV road trip destinations listed below. Each highlights natural beauty and ample opportunities to get outside for some fresh—and potentially brisk—air.

Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Big Five, Southern Utah

Named as such by the state of Utah, the Big Five are the five national parks spread throughout the southern half of the state: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, and Canyonlands. Each park boasts a unique look at the state’s famed geologic formations and scenery ranging from Angel’s Landing (a popular hike in Zion) to the Waterpocket Fold, a 100-mile wrinkle in the earth’s surface in Capitol Reef. For RVers, this stretch of canyon country is a perfect winter journey thanks to the smaller crowds and ephemeral views of dazzling snow on red sandstone.

White Sands National Park

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

New Mexico tends to be a drive-through state for many RV travelers, and that is a shame. RVers should spend a week in Santa Fe before directing their rig toward Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, the winter home of 12,000 sandhill cranes, 32,000 snow geese, and nearly 40,000 ducks. Continue south to White Sands National Park, the newest addition to the National Park Service’s lineup after its re-designation from a national monument in late 2019. Tucked away toward the southern border of the state shared with Texas, it is easy to see why White Sands is dubbed “like no place else on Earth.” Stark-white gypsum sand dunes fill a 275-square-mile region that amounts to a veritable (and socially distant) playground for those willing to explore.

Verde Valley near Sedona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Verde Valley, Arizona

Located in the ‘heart’ of Arizona, the Verde Valley is ideally situated above the heat of the desert and below the cold of Arizona’s high country. The beautiful red rocks of Sedona, the quirkiness of an old mining town (Jerome), and the mysteries of stone (Montezuma Castle) left by those who once thrived here but have now vanished. Down the hill from Jerome is Clarkdale, an old copper mining company town now best known for the Verde Canyon Wilderness Train that takes you on a four hour tour of the stunning Verde River Canyon. You’ll find all this and more in the Verde Valley, 90 miles north of Phoenix.

Chattahoochee National Forest along Brasstown Bald Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Northeast Georgia Mountains

Northeast Georgia Mountains’ picturesque beauty, countryside, tumbling waterfalls, and gentle-mountains provide an escape away from the bustling city. One of the oldest mountain chains that end in Georgia is the Blue Ridge. Tucked in Chattahoochee National Forest, Blue Ridge offers excellent hiking, scenic drives, and farm-fresh produce. Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the Blue Ridge Mountains is known to display the season’s first fall colors. Hike to the top for a panoramic 360-degree view and witness the four states from the visitor center. With sublime views and lush forests, Brasstown Bald offers a secluded retreat.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country

Characterized by tall, rugged hills of limestone and granite, Texas-sized ranches, and refreshing swimming holes, the Hill Country is an outdoor retreat like no other. Get inspired to relax, explore, and enjoy the great outdoors. Settled by Germans and Eastern Europeans, the Texas Hill Country has a culture all its own. Storybook farms and ranches dot the countryside, and you may even still hear folks speaking German in Fredericksburg, Boerne, and New Braunfels. You’ll also find some of the best barbecue in Texas, antique shops on old-fashioned main streets and celebrations with roots in the Old World.

Worth Pondering…

I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

―T.S. Eliot

7 Fall Inspired Road Trips

Whether you’re craving a day trip or a longer getaway this autumn, here are great destinations for a fall road trip in the US

The air is crisp, homemade pies are bubbling, and pumpkin spice lattes are in high demand. What better way to take in the splendor of the fall season than with a selection of scenic road trips. America is ideal for scenic road trips year-round but there is something special about the changing leaves colors that make for an essential experience.

Take in the changing trees, inhale the crisp fall air, and taste local foods on one of these seven road trips across the United States.

Blue Ridge Parkway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia to North Carolina

Launched in 1935 as a New Deal project, the Blue Ridge Parkway took 52 years to complete and is now one of the country’s most iconic highways. Come fall, it’s also one of its most vivid. To make the most of the experience, give yourself plenty of time to cruise from Charlottesville, Virginia, to Asheville, North Carolina (the most popular segment of the 469-mile road). You’ll want that time to hike a portion of the Appalachian Trail, pop into Blue Ridge Music Center for a little bluegrass, and savor both barbecue and fall colors.  

Brasstown Bald © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway, Georgia

Surrounded by the beauty of the Chattahoochee National Forest, the Russell-Brasstown Scenic Byway runs 40 miles from Blairsville to Brasstown Bald, the state’s highest peak, and access points along the Appalachian Trail. This national byway winds through the valleys and mountain gaps of the southern Appalachians. From the vistas atop Brasstown Bald to the cooling mists of waterfalls, scenic wonders fill this region. Hike the Appalachian Trail or fish in a cool mountain stream. Enjoy spectacular views of the mountains and piedmont. Several scenic overlooks and interpretive signs are features of this route.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hill Country, Texas

You can begin your journey into Texas Hill Country from Austin or San Antonio; limestone and granite hills radiate out from both cities. They’re also where the worlds of cowboys and wine collide. For the former, head to Bandera (the self-proclaimed “Cowboy Capital of the World”); for the latter, check out the wineries that line Wine Road 290 in Fredericksburg. There are more than a dozen other towns to explore including New Braunfels (where two rivers flow through) and Lockhart, the state’s barbecue capital.

Cherohala Skyway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina to Tennessee

A skinny highway winds through mountains blanketed only by trees with nothing but more mountains in the distance. Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests. The route stretches from western North Carolina to eastern Tennessee, crossing through the Cherokee and Nantahala National Forests. There are scenic vistas along the way but more adventurous travelers can hike one of 29 trails along the route or fly-fish in Tellico River near the end of the skyway.  

Skyline Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Skyline Drive, Virginia

Whether you tool along by car over the historic 105-mile Skyline Drive or take a hike on one of the Park’s 500+ miles of trails, autumn beauty will surround you in October and early November. The highway meanders along the mountaintops, providing exceptional views of the terrain. The 75 overlooks offer unforgettable views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and Virginia piedmont to the east. The mountains are blanketed with fiery hues of yellows, reds, and oranges, coming alive with the bright autumn foliage.

Fish Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fish Lake Scenic Byway, Utah

Fish Lake Scenic Byway (SR-25) bookends Fishlake National Forest, an often-missed oasis featuring three mountain ranges broken up by desert canyons. Fishlake National Forest is a paradise known for its beautiful aspen forests, scenic drives, trails, elk hunting, and mackinaw and rainbow trout fishing. Fish Lake, Utah’s largest natural mountain lake lies in a down-faulted valley (technically known as a graben) at an elevation of 8,843 feet. The 5.5-mile-long lake is one of the most popular fishing resorts in the state attracting as many as 7,000 visitors on summer weekends.

Road to Von Trapp Family Lodge © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green Mountain Byway, Vermont

The Green Mountain Byway travels from Stowe to Waterbury between mountain ridges. Along the route are Little River, Smugglers Notch, and Waterbury Center state parks and Mount Mansfield and Putnam state forests. Stowe is a premier four season resort destination particularly known for its alpine and Nordic recreation, mountain biking, and hiking. Here, the Von Trapp family (of Sound of Music fame) attracted worldwide attention more than 50 years ago. Along with beautiful scenery, a large variety of attractions for all ages and tastes including Ben & Jerry’s ice cream factory, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, and Vermont Ski Museum.

Worth Pondering…

Autumn . . . the year’s last loveliest smile.

—William Cullen Bryant

4 Texas Road Trips: These You Have to Take

No matter how often you traverse this great state, there’s always something new to see

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

They say everything’s bigger in Texas—and it should come as no surprise. The state itself is the largest of the lower 48.

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Which perhaps is one reason Texas road trips are so popular. Whether you’re looking for a good time in the big city or a wilder, more remote adventure, you’ll find something fun to discover in the Lone Star State.

Lady Bird Johnson in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course, when you’re talking about a land area of almost 270,000 square miles, you’re going to want to do some planning before you take off on the nearest Texas highway. If you’re looking for the best road trips in Texas, read on! We’ve got plenty of options to keep you entertained, deep in the heart of this beloved state.

San Antonio

Mission San Jose © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the San Jose Mission to the Alamo, this city—technically known as The City of San Antonio—is known for its fabulous, historic architecture. With a mix of Spanish and U.S. cultures, the Mexican and Tex-Mex food is more authentic than found almost anywhere else in the country.

The Alamo © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a lot to do in San Antonio, from visiting sites like the Memorial to the Alamo defenders to touring the River Walk or Natural Bridge Caverns. You can also spend days enjoying family-fun destinations like SeaWorld and Six Flags or join a ghost and vampire tour. There is no lack of diversions to explore in this city.

Fayette County

St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Praha, one of the “Painted Churches” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Etched in the eroded headstones in the cemeteries at the “painted churches”—quaint little chapels with exquisite, spangled interiors—are the names of Czech immigrants who flocked to the area starting in the 1840s. Over 80 percent of the Czech Moravian families that settled in Texas at some time lived in Fayette County before they spread out across the state.

Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For starters, Czech out the Texas Czech Heritage and Cultural Center. Vitáme Vás is the Czech equivalent of “howdy” and you’ll certainly feel welcome. Another must-see stop is the Monument Hill & Kreische Brewery State Historic Site.

Kolaches at Weikel’s Bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The early Czech settlers brought with them the kolache, an open-faced pastry traditionally prepared with a sweet filling which is now beloved across the state. One of the best spots to grab a kolache is Weikel’s Bakery in La Grande.

Corpus Christi

Corpus Christi © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beaches, islands, bays, and ports—there are many opportunities to engage in the variety of available water and wind sports. Arts, music, museums (such as the USS Lexington battle ship), and other cultural activities (like the Texas State Aquarium) make this Texas road trip enjoyable for those who desire a more relaxing time than their water-adventuring counterparts.

Texas Hill Country

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With unending panoramic views, this beautiful area is something that has to be experienced to be appreciated. Ride a tube down Comal, Guadalupe, and San Marcos Rivers or go fishing and floating in the many lakes. With nearly 100 RV Parks and campgrounds, there is room for everyone.

Blanco State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Hill Country is also home to some famous wineries and is a great place to get a taste of some homegrown vino. Come through during the springtime to be treated to some epic Texas wildflowers, including the bluebonnets it’s renowned for.

Enchanted Rock State Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From historic architecture to modern amusement parks, from deluxe resorts to rustic campsites, there is a lifetime of activities to enjoy in the state of Texas. Whether you live there or just plan to visit, it is almost a certainty that you have not seen everything this state has to offer. With so much to explore, you may never want to leave.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas history is a varied, tempestuous, and vast as the state itself. Texas yesterday is unbelievable, but no more incredible than Texas today. Today’s Texas is exhilarating, exasperating, violent, charming, horrible, delightful, alive.

— Edna Ferber

The Caverns of Sonora: Its Beauty Can Not be Exaggerated, Even by Texans

Halfway between San Antonio and Big Bend National Park, inconspicuous under acres of ranchland, sit the Caverns of Sonora

We know COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is impacting RV travel plans right now. For a little inspiration we’ll continue to share stories from our favorite places so you can keep daydreaming about your next adventure.

Back in 1896, Baltimore Orioles shortstop Hughie Jennings got hit by pitches a whopping 51 times during the season, a record that has yet to be broken (though why anyone would want to try is beyond me).

That of course has nothing to do with the Caverns of Senora, but I figured I’d begin this article with some insider baseball since Major League Baseball season and the National Hockey League playoffs are on hold. This post is about one of the most beautiful caverns in the U.S.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where the Texas Hill Country meets the Chihuahuan Desert sits thousands of acres of limestone rich ranch country. Found below the boots and hooves of those who inhabit and work the land is an amazing underground treasure, The Caverns of Sonora. The Caverns of Sonora is internationally recognized as one of the most beautiful show caves on the planet.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Having heard positive comments about the Caverns of Sonora, we made a short side trip to Sonora to check them out as we crossed the State of Texas in our motorhome.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A worthwhile stop in its own right, the Caverns of Sonora is also perfectly situated to break up the long drive through West Texas. A small campground with water and electric utilities at the cave made it a convenient overnight stop.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Mayfield family began its ranching operations in Sonora around the turn of the 20th Century. An opening in the rocks was found in the southern part of the ranch when a dog chased a raccoon into a 20-inch opening. Locals began exploring the cave sometime in the early 20s. They could go back about 500 feet from the entrance to a fifty-foot deep pit. This section of the Cave was eventually known as Mayfield Cave.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jack Burch, a caver from Oklahoma saw the cavern for the first time in 1956. He began to see human impact in the caverns in places where there shouldn’t have been any damage. His vision was to develop the cavern to stop this destruction and preserve the cavern for future generations. The Caverns of Sonora was opened to the public July 16, 1960.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cavern is over seven and a half miles long but only two miles of trails are developed for tours. There are five levels of the cave that vary in depth form 20 feet to 180 feet below the surface.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caverns of Sonora is ranked as one of the Top Ten Caverns in the U. S. and is one of the most active caves in the world with over 95 percent of its formations still growing.

The Caverns of Sonora were named a National Natural Landmark in 1966.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Their formation began during the Cretaceous Period, several million years ago, while the area was submerged. Limestone pockets were dissolved by acidic groundwater; when the sea receded, empty chambers were left underground.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cavern is known for its stunning array of calcite crystal formations, extremely delicate formations, and the abundance and variety of formations. You’ll find helictites, soda straws stalactites, speleothems, stalagmites, and cave bacon.

The cave is a constant 71 degrees with 98 percent humidity which makes it feel about 85 degrees.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our tour guide led us up through multiple sections of the cavern that are absolutely stunning. The two miles of paths for the tour are paved with handrails and over 350 steps as you ascend and descend throughout the cave. We marveled at the unbelievable formations of all shapes and sizes and colors and crystal clear ponds.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The cave is well prepared for tours with magnificent indirect lighting which showcases the formations and the various rooms of the cave. The trail meanders up and down the cavern and takes you through both narrow sections of the cave where you need to take care not to bump any formations (or your head).

You’ll visit a number of sections or rooms of the cave with names that reflect the formations in that section, including Crystal Palace, White Giants, Christmas Tree Room, Halo Lake, Valley of Ice, Baby Grand Canyon, and Palace of the Angels.

Caverns of Sonora © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll find the Caverns of Sonora 15 miles southwest of Sonora, off Interstate 10. The best driving route is to take Exit 392 south onto FR 1989 (Caverns of Sonora Road), and follow the signs. The Caverns are open daily, year-round, except Christmas Day; guided tours are offered throughout the day. Special “adventure tours,” photography tours, and large-group tours must be arranged in advance. The visitor center offers fossils, rocks, books, and jewelry, as well as snacks.

Worth Pondering…

Its beauty cannot be exaggerated, even by Texans.

—Bill Stephenson

A Lovely Name for a Lovely River: Guadalupe River State Park

Guadalupe River carves a winding, four-mile path through the state park

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park owes its name and existence to one of the most scenic and popular recreational rivers in Texas. When Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon encountered the clear-flowing stream in 1689, he named it Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico). The Guadalupe: a lovely name for a lovely river.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River might be just another typical Hill Country state park were it not for the exceptional public access it provides to a river whose banks are mostly private property. The park is also unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 98 percent of the park guests go straight to the river and never step foot on the trails. The river is what attracts people, and that’s why the park was established.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If some 98 percent of Guadalupe River State Park’s visitors flock to the swimming hole on the Guadalupe, we’re happy to be a “two-percenter” and explore the rest of the park.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nationally recognized for birding, the state park harbors some 160 bird species. Depending on the season, expect to see—or hear—bluebirds, cardinals, canyon and Carolina wrens, white-eyed vireos, yellow-crested woodpeckers, kingfishers, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and red-shouldered hawks.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For a combination of good birdwatching and gorgeous scenery, try hiking along the river through riparian galleries of bald cypress, sycamore, elm, and pecan.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. Some of these arboreal monarchs are several centuries old and have weathered countless flash floods. The bald cypress is aptly named because it’s a deciduous conifer (most are evergreen), turning rust brown, dropping its feathery leaves, and “going bald” each fall.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $20-$24 plus the $7 per person park entrance fee. In the Cedar Sage Camping Area, 37 campsites offer 30-amp electric service and water for $20 nightly; in the Turkey Sink multiuse area 48 campsites offer 50-amp electric service and water for $24. Weekly rates are also available.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A Texas State Park Pass will allow you and your guests to enjoy unlimited visits for 1-year to more than 90 State Parks, without paying the daily entrance fee, in addition to other benefits. A Texas State Parks Pass is valid for one year and costs $70.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park is located 30 miles north of downtown San Antonio. From US 281, travel 8 miles west on Texas 46 and then 3 miles north on Park Road 31.

The parkland along the Guadalupe River is indeed good country.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

See it, believe it, for yourself.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

The Texas Hill Country is noted for its hilly landscape and also the great number of oases, rivers, and diversity of wildlife

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

Buckhorn Lake RV Resort © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Fredericksburg © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

Wildseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After arriving at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort we unhooked our dinghy and after setting up camp we ventured out. We explored Fredericksburg and the nearby Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Wildseed Farms, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and further afield including a detour or two.

Lady Bird Johnson Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most famous detour of all is Luckenbach, population 25, reached by driving six miles east of town on U.S. 290, then turning south (right) on Ranch Road 1376; continue on this little road about four miles till you see signs. If you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far—maybe it’s time to stop and ask directions, as signs to Luckenbach just don’t last long, thanks to souvenir hunters.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These days Luckenbach, Texas is, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, a “State of Mind”—A Texas state of mind, where you can kick back, relax, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—like a step back in time.

LBJ National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, a general store opened in Luckenbach, a town made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1973 classic country hit, “Luckenbach Texas-Back to the Basics”. The store is still there with a bar, a dance hall for special events, and “prit near always” a jam session playing. Sometimes country stars make impromptu appearances, or there may be an armadillo race or horseshoe tournament going on.

LBJ National Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also nearby, east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

LBJ National Historic Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park. The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park is unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

Guadalupe River State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is a state mind. Texas is an obsession. Above all, Texas is a nation in every sense of the word.

—John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America

Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Texas Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

Head For the Hills: Texas Hill Country

A road trip in the Hill Country is an adventure into beautiful parks with natural wonders and tiny towns that preserve remnants of Americana and the Wild West

Imagine hills, soft and scrubby, green valleys, and limestone cliffs. Conjure up ranches and communities of German heritage, wineries, fields of wildflowers, and sparkling rivers lined with cypress and oak.

Guadalupe River in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ah, the Texas Hill Country. To some it is the state’s greatest natural resource.

No big cities, no hustle and bustle—just cafes with country cooking, water for fishing and inner tubing, and old places with timeworn comfort. Yes, it’s easy to feel at home in the Texas Hill Country.

Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

McKenney Falls State Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

Buckhorn Lake Resort in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The resort also features an 8,000-square-foot red barn. The facility that not only hosts year-round activities sponsored by Buckhorn but also can be rented for other events. Other amenities include trash pick-up, a dog park, pools, and a fitness center.

Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Trading the customary Howdy! for Willkommen!, we headed to Fredericksburg, just 30 minutes northeast of Buckhorn Lake, a community that celebrates it German heritage. Settled in the 1850s by immigrants from the Old Country, the town retains much of its Germanic influence through shop and restaurant themes, seasonal festivals including the annual Oktoberfest with its oom-pahs, polkas, and bratwurst.

Fredericksburg in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Marktplatz in the center of town commemorates the peace treaty between the German settler and Comanche Nation. The treaty is thought to be the only one with Native Americans never broken.

National Museum of the Pacific War © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Don’t leave Fredericksburg without a visit to the emotionally powerful Admiral Nimitz State Historic Site and National Museum of the Pacific War. Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Commander-in-Chief in the Pacific during WWII, grew up in Fredericksburg. The museum covers eight acres and includes a Garden of Peace—a gift from the people of Japan.

The Pioneer Museum Complex is also located in Fredericksburg, telling the story of the mid-1800s German settlers. Open year-round, a four-acre museum community complex includes a home, a store, a smokehouse, a log cabin, and a bathhouse.

Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the southwest edge of Fredericksburg, 340-acre Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park offers scenic paths, outdoor recreation, and 98 RV campsites with 50/30-amp electric service, water, sewer, and WiFi. The park’s Live Oak Wilderness Trail, a mile-long stretch on 10 creek-side acres, features a bird-watching station and a butterfly area.

Windseed Farms © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fredericksburg is also at the center of the Hill Country wildflower scene, best witnessed during the spring months of April and May, but there’s a nearly year-round floral bonanza to be found at Wildseed Farms, seven miles east of town. This the largest working wildflower farm in the world, where flowers are grown in endless rows for seed.

Fredericksburg bakery © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sure, we love Fredericksburg, with its quaint Main Street and antique shops, biergartens, and bakeries. But after we’ve gorged on apfelstrudel to our heart’s content, it’s time to brush off the crumbs and open up our trail map.

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

Our enchantment with the area continued when we drove onto Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, 20 miles north of Fredericksburg. This 1,643-acre park is dominated by a 70-acre dome of pink granite that rises 425 feet above the bed of Sandy Creek, 1825 feet above sea level. One of the largest batholiths (an underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) in the US, Enchanted Rock is surrounded by oak woodlands as far as the eye can see.

With two main trails from which to choose, this is a great place to stretch your legs. The view from the top is worth the climb.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Texas Hill Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hill Country offers many other getaway options. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The towns of Boerne and Comfort, New Braunfels and Gruene, Dripping Springs and Marble Falls, and Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World”.

Oh yes, and Luckenbach.

And these, my friends, are the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

I am humbled by the forces of nature that continuously -mold our great state of Texas into a beautiful landscape complete with geological diversity, flora and fauna. It is my goal as a photographer to capture that natural beauty and share it with others.

—Chase A. Fountain