Mardi Gras RV City

The aptly named campground under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile, Alabama, has been home to 197 trailers and RVs for almost a decade.

The Heathcoe family of Saraland, Alabama, decorate their motorhome in RV City, the campground set up for Mardi Gras under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile.

The Heathcoe family of Saraland, Alabama, decorate their motorhome in RV City, the campground set up for Mardi Gras under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile. (Photo credit: Sharon/AL.com)

And although she’s been coming to Mardi Gras her whole life—and even been a guest in RV City several times—2015 will be the first time Jenny Richardson has her own spot, in-between her two uncles, according to AL.com.

When she picked out her expansive new camper trailer, she was sure of its primary destination, just a few months away.

When she bought her camper, “90 percent of it was because of Mardi Gras and the beach,” Richardson said.

She and her uncles, Mike Wilson and Larry Eubanks, are part of a group of early arrivals to the campground.

“Everybody’s family here,” Richardson told AL.com.

Now taking up a huge swath of land under the Interstate—bordered by Water, Canal, and Jackson streets—RV City is the Mardi Gras brainchild of Ike and Peggy Jimenez.

In 2000, with nowhere for them and their fellow campers to safely congregate, Ike started writing letters to then-Mayor Mike Dow seeking space. Eventually, Dow arranged a piece of state land under I-10.

According to Peggy Jimenez, that wedge of land was home to the first RV City tenants, who numbered about 60. And most of those folks have continued to come ever since.

RV City, the campground set up for Mardi Gras under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile.

RV City, the campground set up for Mardi Gras under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile. (Photo credit: Sharon Steinmann/AL.com)

Now, 14 years later, the number is at a static 197, and folks come together in November of each year to pay their dues, which are $399 per spot, with an extra $25 for those who want to bring a golf cart, said told AL.com.

The spots are grandfathered in—for one to come available, one of the existing campers needs to bow out. There’s a waiting list of 30 to 40 on average each year. And about 30 folks drop out each year, with 30 newcomers then slotted in.

“We enjoy it, we really do,” Jimenez told AL.com. She and Ike are considered the “mayor and first lady” of RV City, according to the campers.

For the first nine years, she said she and her husband—who own a construction business locally—handled all the logistics and organizing without compensation. But recently, they have been getting reimbursed by the city and state.

SMG, the management company that operates the nearby Civic Center, handles the details.

Very few, if any, of the campers in RV City are from out of town.

According to Jimenez, most of the “citizens” belong to one of eight different parading societies, including the Order of Venus, Neptune’s Daughters, Conde Cavaliers, and Mobile Mystics.

Those belonging to certain crewes group together and can be identified by their flags, she said. And yet they all come together for parties each Saturday night during the season, when a DJ plays music for RV City.

Mike Wilson, who considers himself a campground veteran, said last Saturday’s kickoff party is his favorite event of the season, followed by Joe Cain Day, on February 15.

A member of the same mystic organization Wilson belongs to provides the music starting around 6:30 p.m., after their float barn party wraps, he said. It’s a family-friendly event open to the public, and “we watch out for everybody else’s kids,” Wilson told AL.com.

RV City, the campground set up for Mardi Gras under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile

RV City, the campground set up for Mardi Gras under Interstate 10 in downtown Mobile. (Photo credit: Sharon Steinmann/AL.com)

But now, they’ve been told by a representative of the state this is the last year RV City will be allowed to occupy that land; that in 2016 it will be unavailable due to upcoming construction.

As for possible relocation, some sites have been discussed by various campers, but Ike and Peggy haven’t heard anything concrete.

“Until the mayor or the city ventures out and tries to locate something else, it’s never going to be this big,” Jimenez said.

But for now, the party is on, and folks will continue to fill their spots and decorate their “homes” in RV City over the next week or so, Jimenez said.

“It’s nice to see families and to be able to get with friends and come down here and enjoy yourselves in a safe environment,” she said. “If it wasn’t for this place here, they’d have no place to go.”

Worth Pondering…

Mardi Gras is a thing that could hardly exist in the practical North….For the soul of it is the romantic, not the funny and the grotesque. Take away the romantic mysteries, the kings and knights and big-sounding titles, and Mardi Gras would die, down there in the South.

—Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (Harper & Brothers, 1896)

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Escapees Expand Mail Services

Since 1985, Escapees Mail Forwarding Service has been assisting full-time and part-time RVers with all their mail forwarding needs.  As a licensed commercial mail-receiving agent, Escapees provides the largest, most economical service for RVers in the nation.

EscapeesMailServiceLogo2Livingston, Texas-based Escapees Club announced that its mail service has raised the bar again.

The new Escapees: Home satellite centers provide Escapees Mail Service members with a whole new level of flexibility, according to a news release.

This service is specifically designed for full-time RVers interested in maintaining a physical address in Florida, Texas, or South Dakota.

Escapees: Home offers Florida and South Dakota as home-base options and perfectly meshes those two satellite centers with Escapees’ sophisticated mail distribution center in Livingston, Texas.

“Whether you move for personal reasons, or state regulations create undue hardships, Escapees: Home satellite service allows you to change your domicile without alerting your entire list of correspondents,” said Teresa Moore, chief operations officer.

All Escapees Mail Service members receive their very own private mailbox number that corresponds with a Texas (Rainbow Drive) street “mailing address” for general correspondence. Those who select Texas as their domicile may use this as their physical address as well. This same private mailbox number will be used for Escapees: Home mail.

escapees logoEscapees Mail Service members who select the Escapees: Home option, may use one of the “physical addresses” the club offers for domicile purposes and have their state-specific mail (vehicle registration, driver license, and voter registration) sent there. Mail received at our satellite centers in Florida or South Dakota will be forwarded to the Texas facility for processing based on each member’s specific instructions. There is no additional charge for this service. Members pay postage only.

Details

Escapees Mail Service

Since 1985, Escapees Mail Forwarding Service has been assisting full-time and part-time RVers with all their mail forwarding needs.

Phone: (936) 327-8873 or (888) 757-2582 (toll free)

Website: www.escapees.com/mailservice

Escapees RV Club

Escapees-discount-highlightAddress: 100 Rainbow Drive, Livingston, TX 77351

Phone: (936) 327-8873 or (888) 757-2582 (toll free)

Website: www.escapees.com

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra

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San Xavier del Bac: White Dove of the Desert

One glance, and you know why it’s known as the White Dove of the Desert.

Mission San Xavier del Bac, sometimes called "the Sistine Chapel of the United States" and the "White Dove of the Desert," is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mission San Xavier del Bac, sometimes called “the Sistine Chapel of the United States” and the “White Dove of the Desert,” is considered the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just imagine, in the late 1600s a stranger on horseback has entered a village. Many of the people gather to see this stranger who is dressed in a dark, flowing robe and large brimmed hat. The people of the village greet the stranger and welcome him.

These people are the Tohono O’odham and the village is Wa:k. The stranger is Jesuit missionary and explorer Eusebio Kino.

A National Historic Landmark, San Xavier Mission was founded as a Catholic mission when Father Eusebio Kino first came to the O’odham village of Wa:k (which he transcribed as “Bac”) in 1692.

The mission church of San Xavier del Bac, the oldest intact European structure in Arizona, is a stunning example of Mexican baroque architecture. The Baroque architecture style features playful dramatic elements such as theatrical curtain displays, faux doors, marbling, and overall sense of balance.

After Charles III expelled the Jesuits from Spain and all its holdings in 1767, Franciscans took over the mission in Wa:k.

The current church dates from the late 1700s, when Southern Arizona was part of New Spain. Construction began in 1783 and was completed in 1797. Franciscan missionary Fr. Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction on the present structure using money borrowed from a Sonoran rancher. He hired an architect, Ignacio Gaona, and a large workforce of O’odham to create the present church.

Today that structure is the east wing of the mission, next to the east bell tower.

The walls of the Mission's Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a religious gallery of work painted directly on its walls by missionaries two centuries ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The walls of the Mission’s Byzantine-influenced interior are ablaze with frescoes, a religious gallery of work painted directly on its walls by missionaries two centuries ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1783, Father Juan Bautista Velderrain began construction of the present church, which is made of clay brick, stone, and lime-based mortar.

Father Juan Bautista Llorens took over after Velderrain’s death in 1790 and oversaw much of the interior decoration. Among the exquisite murals and statuary — many made in Mexico and painstakingly transported to the church — you’ll see several recurring motifs, including the Franciscan cord and seashells, St. James’ symbol of pilgrimage.

The church’s interior is filled with marvelous original statuary and mural paintings. It is a place where visitors can truly step back in time and enter an authentic 18th Century space.

Although the friars ran out of money before they could finish one bell tower and decorate one of the largest rooms in the church, the mission opened for services in 1797. The elaborate Mexican baroque exterior and vividly painted interior had the desired effect—to draw native people into the fold.

Following Mexican independence in 1821, San Xavier became part of Mexico. The last resident Franciscan of the 19th Century departed in 1837. With the Gadsden Purchase of 1854, the Mission joined the United States. In 1859 San Xavier became part of the Diocese of Santa Fe. In 1866 Tucson became an incipient diocese and regular services were held at the Mission once again. Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet opened a school at the Mission in 1872.

The Franciscans returned to the Mission in 1913. Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity now teach at the school and reside in the convent.

One glance, and you know why it's known as the White Dove of the Desert

One glance, and you know why it’s known as the White Dove of the Desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although the church was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1963 and is open to the public, its primary purpose is to minister to the religious needs of its parishioners.

Restoration of the west tower was recently completed. Work on the east tower and the front facade will proceed as funding allows.

Details

San Xavier del Bac

Location: 9 miles south of downtown Tucson just off of I-19; take exit 92 (San Xavier Road) and follow signs to the Mission

Address: 1950 W. San Xavier Road, Tucson, AZ 85746-7409

Hours: Open 7:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. daily, with occasional closures for special services; Sunday mass at 7:00 a.m., 10:00 a.m., and 11:30 p.m.

Admission: Free. Donations are appreciated.

Phone: (520) 294-2624

Website: www.sanxaviermission.org

Worth Pondering…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

—Arthur Ashe

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Winnebago Introduces Winnebago RV Insurance

Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago Industries, Inc. announced a new Winnebago RV Insurance offering.

Winnebago RV InsuranceIn conjunction with Farm and City Insurance Services (FCIS), Winnebago RV Insurance offers a wide complement of coverage. From RV to personal insurance plans, Winnebago RV Insurance is designed to provide all of the coverage and services needed to feel at home while on the road.

“We’ve chosen FCIS due to the strength of our long-time relationship and their proven ability to provide RV owners with knowledgeable and impressive customer service,” said Winnebago Marketing Director Chad Reece.

Winnebago RV Insurance obtains quotes from four national providers through FCIS. All RV brands are eligible for a no-obligation quote. Customers who also join or renew their WIT Club membership will receive a free extension of their membership term as an extra benefit.

Winnebago Insurance“We are pleased to join forces with one of the best brand names in the RV industry,” said FCIS President Courtney Wooge.

“This new program is an exciting opportunity for FCIS and Winnebago to help thousands of RV owners nationwide.”

Details

Winnebago RV Insurance

From RV to personal insurance, Winnebago RV Insurance can provide all of the coverage and services you need to feel at home while on the road.

They employ top RV Specialists who understand what an RV owner needs, and provide prompt information, answers, and insurance proposals. Their knowledge and dedication to their customers helps them make the right choices for their specialized insurance coverage needs.

Phone: (800) 642-4892

Website: www.winnebagorvinsurance.com

Winnebago Industries, Inc.

winnebago-quality-circle-award-255x144Forest City, Iowa-based Winnebago Industries, Inc., “The Most Recognized Name In Motor Homes”, is a leading U.S. manufacturer of recreation vehicles, which are used primarily in leisure travel and outdoor recreation activities.

The Company builds quality motorhomes, travel trailers, and fifth wheel products under the Winnebago, Itasca, Era, SunnyBrook, and Metro brand names.

Winnebago Industries has received the Quality Circle Award from the Recreation Vehicle Dealers Association every year since the award’s inception in 1996.

Postal Address: P.O. Box 152, Forest City, IA 50436

Street Address: 605 West Crystal Lake Road, Forest City, IA 50436

Phone: (641) 585-3535

Winnebago Website: www.gowinnebago.com

Itasca Website: goitasca.com

goLife Website: www.winnebagolife.com

Worth Pondering…

Small opportunities are often the beginning of great enterprises.

—Demosthenes

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China Ranch Date Farm

A lush oasis hidden in a desert valley, the beautiful China Ranch Date Farm, is worthy of a visit on your next journey near southern Death Valley.

China Ranch Date Farm is hidden away in a lush oasis near Death Valley.

China Ranch Date Farm is hidden away in a lush oasis near Death Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Wine Ridge RV Resort in Pahrump, Nevada, as our home base, we explored this lush piece of greenery near Tecopa, California.

Wandering down into this little palm lined haven situated somewhere between Death Valley and the Dumont Dunes, we discovered a gorgeous little river valley with some interesting geological formations and numerous hiking trails strewn throughout the area.

Imagine towering cottonwoods and willows along a wandering stream, date palms, and abundant wildlife, all hidden away in some of the most spectacular scenery the desert has to offer.

Nestled amongst a small group of homes, is this family owned and operated working farm along with a tiny little date shop, about half the size of a coffee shop, as well as a cool, clever little place aptly named the “Modest Museum”, which is more or less a shed depicting the early history of the ranch.

An unique little place aptly named the "Modest Museum" depicts the early history of the ranch.

An unique little place aptly named the “Modest Museum” depicts the early history of the ranch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It includes exhibits and artifacts from Indian sites and archeological digs, the pioneer families that were in the area in the early 1900s, and the mysterious Chinese man who is thought to have first settled this Mojave Desert canyon.

The Old Spanish Trail is within walking distance, as is the historic Tonopah & Tidewater railroad bed. Hike to nearby abandoned mines if you wish, or just relax and browse through our store.

Inside the shop is a variety of local goods especially made for or by China Ranch. Of course, you have your typical date related items; delicious date nut bread, cookies, muffins, date balls, and the ever-important and always delicious date shake.

Inside the store is a small fridge with Ziploc bags stuffed with fresh dates, and tags indicating the variety simply stapled on. The small scale of packaging makes this experience even more intriguing and personal.

Inside the shop is a variety of date related items; delicious date nut bread, cookies, muffins, date balls, and the ever-important and always delicious date shake.

Inside the shop is a variety of date related items; delicious date nut bread, cookies, muffins, date balls, and the ever-important and always delicious date shake. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not sure what to choose? Not a problem as visitors can sample their way through the dates, getting a sense of freshness and quality that China Ranch is bringing to the table.
Every single date is a winner, and there is a date for every taste. A favorite is the purple label “Hybrid” variety. These dates are jet black, almost looking like elongated black olives. They are extremely meaty with a creamy, rich, smooth texture, just like butter.

If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife, plants, or history of the area, try one of the interpretive guided nature walks. Learn about the geology, botany, birds, and early man in the area. The Old Spanish Trail comes alive again and much more.

Visiting China Ranch can be a wonderful one day adventure or highlight of any trip to Death Valley.

October through April are the best months to visit the ranch if you want to take in a few hiking trails, as summer temperatures can soar well above the century mark.

The Crack Trail provides a modest hike and the reward is a captivating view of a small waterfall on the Amargosa River as it flows south through the eastern edge of China Ranch.

Nearby in the town of Tecopa, visitors can immerse themselves in the desert mystique of the Amagosa Valley, the gateway to Death Valley National Park.

Here you will find the ruins of the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Co. and the added bonus of a soak at the Tecopa Artesian Hot Springs. The bathhouse is rustic and was used by miners in the early 20th century. Water temperature is an average 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Artesian hot springs between fragile mud hills of Amagosa Valley is another refreshing stop.

Artesian hot springs between fragile mud hills of Amagosa Valley is another refreshing stop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural minerals in the spring water will leave your skin smooth and refreshed after a long day hiking and exploring.

There are also more than 200 camping and R. V. spaces available at Tecopa Hot Springs Campground.

Details

China Ranch Date Farm

Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. except Christmas

Location: 50 miles north of I-15, approximately 85 miles west of Las Vegas, off Highway 127 en route to southern entrance of Death Valley National Park

Address: P.O. Box 61, Shoshone, CA 92384

Phone: (760) 852-4415

Website: www.chinaranch.com

Worth Pondering…

Our happiest moments as RVers always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.

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ABCs of LEDs for RVs

Brantford, Ontario-based RV-PartsPlus.com has introduced its first book on the conversion of lighting in a RV to LEDs.

ABCs-of-LEDs-coverWith the popularity of this lighting format in new, motorized, and towable recreation vehicles, many owners want to make the upgrade/conversion from incandescent or fluorescent lighting to light emitting diodes (LED).

“Until now, there was no single source for information about what light emitting diodes were, how they benefit RVers and what is involved in making the conversion,” said author Rob Lowe, with RV-Parts Plus.

The ABCs of LEDs is a 70-page, e‐book available in a universal PDF format that can be read on popular tablets, all computers, and most smartphones, although the devices may require an app. It is priced at just $3.99, less than the cost of a LED replacement bulb.

“The ability to read at their leisure and see photos to highlight the concepts makes the transition much easier,” said Lowe.

“This book grew out of our popular seminars presented at RV rallies and shows across North America. We wanted to provide the information in an easy‐to‐read format and include photos with instructions to help RVers make the conversion themselves, if they choose to.”

The book explains why LEDs are more expensive than traditional RV light bulbs. It also helps bridge the gap when RV dealers give cost estimates to make the conversion.

“After reading this book, an RVer will understand much more and be able to make an informed decision,” Lowe said.

“It will also give him or her a better grasp of the labor involved.”

An e‐book format lends itself to being updated and adapted as changes evolve in the industry, he added.

“This makes the book relevant at whatever stage we are in regarding LED conversion within the industry,” said Lowe.

“Astute dealers can benefit from the conversion trend by using the book to completely explain the concepts in a fashion that cannot be done at the parts counter or service window.”

Topics include:

Bulb selection

Color choices

Features of LEDs

Benefits of converting to LED lighting in an RV

Step-by-step installations instructions for popular fixtures

Numerous detailed photos that cover many replacement installations

Details

RV-Parts Plus

RV-Parts Plus has served RV and motorhome users online since 2001.

Phone: (877) 266-5398 (toll free)

Website: www.rv-partsplus.com

Worth Pondering…

No matter where we go in our motorhome, that sense of independence is satisfying. We have our own facilities, from comfortable bed to a fridge full of our favorite foods. We set the thermostat the way we like it and go to bed and get up in our usual routine.

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Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise

Hunting Island, the most popular state park in South Carolina, attracts more than a million visitors annually and was recently named a top 10 beach Trip Advisor.

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

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

On the well-preserved, five-mile stretch of South Carolina coast you’ll find a maritime forest, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, and the pristine sandy beach.

Hunting Island State Park is only 29 miles off Interstate 95, the main corridor between Florida and the Northeast, approximately halfway between Savannah and Charleston.

Approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, the park encompasses 5,000 acres of sandy beach, maritime forest, and saltwater marsh. It is classified as a true semitropical island.

The island got its name because it was once used for hunting deer, raccoon, and other small game animals and waterfowl. Once used as the hunting preserve for wealthy planters’ families, Hunting Island was renowned for its hunting parties that lasted several days.

Hunting Island possesses the best developed slash pine-palmetto forest in the state and is one of the best sites to observe South Carolina’s state tree, the Cabbage Palmetto, in its native habitat.

Cabbage palmettos stretch out onto the sands of the magnificent beach, which is more than 400 feet wide in places at low tide.

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

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

The beautiful beach is not the only attraction at Hunting Island. The salt marsh is one of the most productive habitats in the world. Rich in nutrients, the salt marsh provides food and shelter for many different life forms. It is the home of waterfowl, small mammals, and many amphibians and reptiles.

Most marine life is also directly or indirectly dependent on the salt marsh. Some, such as the shrimp, live and spawn in the sea as adults but come into the shallow productive waters of the salt marsh to mature. Others, such as the fiddler crab, spawn in the marshes; then the young swim out to sea where they remain until nearly grown.

Many animals spend their entire lives in the marsh while others visit the marsh for food. There are few places on earth where plant and animal life are so varied, so abundant, so unusual, and so fascinating.

Probably the most spectacular feature of Hunting Island is its 19th-century lighthouse, which stands with three remaining original structures in the middle of the park.

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

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

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in South Carolina that is publicly accessible. From the top of one of the most distinctive lighthouses in South Carolina, guests can stand 130 feet above the ground to take in the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Atlantic Coast and surrounding maritime forest.

The lighthouse tower is open for climbing; hours vary seasonally. For an admission of $2, visitors can climb the 167 steps and walk around the observation deck for a lofty view of the barrier island and surrounding seascape.

The lighthouse was closed for repairs in May 2003 when cracks were discovered in several of its cast-iron steps. In a renovation that spanned more than 18 months, construction crews not only repaired the cracks, but installed steel braces beneath them for reinforcement. Left unpainted, the silver-gray braces stand out in sharp contrast to the black cast-iron stairs. The contrast helps distinguish between the original structure and modern improvements, which protect the lighthouse’s historic integrity.

The original structure was built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. A unique feature of the lighthouse is that it was constructed of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled should it ever need to be moved. Severe beach erosion made it necessary to relocate the lighthouse 1.3 miles inland in 1889.

RV and tent camping is available at the northern end of the park near the ocean. Each of the 200 sites has water and electrical hookups; 102 sites offer 20/30/50-amp electric service. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; other up to 28 feet. In addition 10 trail sites with access to water are available for tent campers. Camping reservations are available. Complimentary Wi-Fi is now available in the campground. Dump stations are located at the exit of each campground area.

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

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

To begin and end your day, be sure to catch the splendor of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and the sunset over the salt marsh.

Although plenty of activities can keep you occupied, the true beauty of Hunting Island is its atmosphere—a blend of sights and sounds that almost forces you to relax, to escape the rush of today’s life, to forget that the interstate is less than 30 minutes away.

The park is open year-round, and in the off season its solitude and charm are even more pronounced.

Details

Hunting Island State Park

Admission: $5; children ages 6-15, $3

Lighthouse admission: $2

RV Camping: $17-38

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

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

Address: 2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, SC 29920

Phone: (843) 838-2011

Directions: If traveling north on I-95, take Exit 8 (SR-170); if you’re traveling south, take Exit 42 (US-21 south); both routes leads through Beaufort (state park is 16 miles east of Beaufort on US-21)

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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Settling Into Your Snowbird Roost

Once you’ve decided on the region you’d like to visit, consider the RV park where you’d like to while away the winter months.

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Many of these parks welcome snowbirds with open arms and even schedule special events or social mixers for their winter guests. Many parks also offer amenities that will keep you active through winter months.

Some RV parks even offer classes for snowbirds eager to learn a new skill or hobby. Come spring, you can impress your friends back home with the things you’ve learned and the photos you’ve brought back with you.

The choice is yours, but remember: You’re on wheels, so take advantage and go exploring. Wherever you land, you’ll find thriving snowbird parks packed with amenities and an abundance of on-site activities.

Joining the RV Snowbird Community

While some snowbirds spend the winter months traveling from one warm-weather location to another, others enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts that cultivate a sense of community among seasonal residents.

Many snowbird parks provide resort amenities designed for long-term guests, including a Welcome Center, a well-appointed clubhouse and activity building, free cable or satellite TV and high-speed Internet at site, large swimming pools and heated spas, and fully-appointed fitness center.

Mardi Gras parade

A Mardi Gras parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Many of the larger RV resorts have multiple halls with breakout rooms for activities,

classes, and special events. Computer rooms, game rooms with pool tables, tennis and shuffleboard courts, a pickle ball facility, and an arts and craft room frequented by quilters and sewing enthusiasts are also available for winter residents.

Other amenities may include a nine- or 18-hole golf course, a fenced-in dog park, stocked lake, onsite hiking and biking trails, croquet courts, movie theatre, large ballrooms, dining options, and a variety of activities. Some seniors-oriented RV parks have literally hundreds of organized activities to keeps seasoned snowbirds involved and active.

Everything from fun-filled activities to luxurious spa treatments, from sewing and quilting classes to exercise and meditation classes, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are offered.

Water aerobics, personal trainers, and professional entertainment including live musical concerts, comedy shows, and celebrity impersonators may also be offered at some winter resorts. Many 55+ RV parks also have a variety of arts and crafts classes, from painting to woodworking and lapidary where you’ll learn the art of jewelry making by cutting, grinding, and setting stones. Others may teach silver smithing and wire wrapping. Some parks offer gourd painting, Swedish blanket making, water color painting, woodcarving, pottery, and ceramics.

pet parade

A pet parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

In some resorts many activities center around dancing, dance classes, and dance workshops (from pre-beginners to Advance II to Phase VI)—square dance, line dance, round dance, ball room dance, mainstream dance, pattern dance, tap dance, 2-step, waltz, cha-cha, Latin dance, Zumba, Jitterbug, Western Swing, Country Western dance, and clogging.

Pet amenities include off-leash dog areas, walking areas, and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.

The resorts also offer periodic seminars on health related topics as well as potlucks, wine tastings, and organized tours to casinos and special events. Other 55+ resorts set aside an open area of the park where guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs including kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and radishes.

Best of all, the active 55+ resorts are located in some of the most popular snowbird destinations in the Sun Belt, such as the rugged desert southwest, the tropical Gulf, and stunning Atlantic Coast.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when we hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our northern home, something in our genes starts pulling our inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the RV with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

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Enchanted Rock: Sitting on Top of the World

The Texas Hill Country begins a little way west of I-35 between San Antonio and Austin, and from here extends a large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns.

Enchanted Rock is an impressive geological feature with an estimated age of one billion years, making it among the oldest exposed rock in North America

Enchanted Rock is an impressive geological feature with an estimated age of one billion years, making it among the oldest exposed rock in North America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the area is quite densely wooded and can look rather featureless from a distance, with every hill covered with trees. One exception is Enchanted Rock, an enormous, pink granite dome located between Llano and Fredericksburg, about 90 miles north of San Antonio and 18 miles from Fredericksburg along ranch road 965.

Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres.

It’s part of the Llano Uplift, a large region of granite bedrock that rises out of the surrounding limestone. Over the last several million years, erosion has exposed this billion-year-old dome and its smaller sister domes. It’s some of the oldest exposed rock in the world and is a prime destination for hikers, photographers, and rock climbers.

Boasting the best view in Texas, Enchanted Rock has long been a useful landmark for cross-country travelers. The rock is one of the largest batholiths (underground rock formation uncovered by erosion) formed from molten magma deep below the earth’s crust and part of an underground mass of 62 square miles, one of the largest such features in the US.

Although Enchanted Rock appears to be solid and durable, it continues to change and erode.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enchanted Rock was designated a National Natural Landmark in 1970 and was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

Enchanted Rock is part of the state park system, one of the most popular sites in Texas for several reasons—the scenery is unusual, the summit is easily reached and has fine views over the countryside, different habitats harbor varied wildflowers, cacti and other plants, and there are good hiking trails and rock climbing routes. Occasionally visitors are turned away if the carpark reaches maximum capacity. There are actually several different summits, and a few days could be spent exploring the area.

The park offers 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 6/10 mile Summit Trail which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock.

The park offers 7 miles of hiking trails, including the popular 6/10 mile Summit Trail which involves a 425-foot elevation gain hike to the top of Enchanted Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are two main trails. The steep and heavily traveled Summit Trail leads directly to the summit of the main rock, while the Loop Trail makes a four-mile trek around the entire complex of domes.

A more relaxed and more scenic—but longer—hike, the Loop Trail presents a completely different aspect of the park. Along the way you’ll pass through a couple of different ecosystems—through woods and brush, by a pond, over exposed rock—and you’ll see several unusual eroded and lichen-encrusted rock formations that those who do climb the face of Enchanted Rock never get to see.

A good combination is to walk half the loop trail to the far side of the Enchanted Rock summit, use a short cut along a ravine (Echo Canyon) to link with the summit trail then take this up to the peak. The southern part of the loop trail climbs through pine woodland and past large granite boulders with many colorful wildflowers during spring. There is a short side trail to a viewpoint of distant lands to the west, while the main path continues past a primitive camping area and a large pond (Moss Lake) with fish and turtles, then meets the Echo Canyon junction. The trail through here passes one of the main rock climbing areas, then meets the summit trail half way to the top.

Details

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area

Elevation: 1,825 feet (high point)

Address: 16710 Ranch Road 965, Fredericksburg, TX 78624

Phone: (830) 685-3636

Directions: From Fredericksburg 18 miles north on Ranch Road 965; from Llano, 14 miles south on SR-16 and then west on Ranch Road 965

Entrance Fees: $7; children 12 years and younger, free

The 4-mile Loop Trail, a favorite among hikers and backpackers, winds around the base of Enchanted Rock.

The 4-mile Loop Trail, a favorite among hikers and backpackers, winds around the base of Enchanted Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Note: Park closures are possible on weekends and holidays. The number of people in the park is limited to protect its fragile resources. When parking lots are full, the park will close for up to two hours. This can happen September through May, sometimes as early as 11 a.m.

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

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2 National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Touring America’s national parks in an RV can be a transcendent experience.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley

Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore the great outdoors. Although some parks may have limited access to certain areas due to ice and a heavy accumulation of snow, many of the unique natural environments found in America’s national parks are best appreciated during the winter months.

Many of the most famous national parks experience a drastic drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions. In fact, you may just have the park mostly to yourself.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter. This is a perfect time to visit one or more national parks.

With snowbirds and Winter Texans in mind, the following are my picks for the two best national parks to visit this winter.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley. The very name repels. So do the superlatives: the hottest (134 degrees in 1913), driest (less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall), and lowest (282 feet below sea level) of the U.S. national parks. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.

Its forbidding name, suggests a vast stretch of nothingness. Boring. Bleak. Empty. Right?

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes.

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead wrong. Despite its inhospitable name, Death Valley National Park can, in fact, be quite welcoming, especially during the cooler winter months.

With average temperatures that hover around 120 degrees during the summertime, Death Valley National Park is best visited during the winter months. The typically harsh environment of Death Valley is much more inviting during the winter, with temperatures in the low 70s during the day and the high 30s during the night.

The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley offers everything from snow-covered mountain peaks to sand dunes. It’s a spot unique on Earth, with high, snow-frosted 11,000-foot peaks towering over a valley that drops 282 feet below sea-level.

There are whimsical salt formations, reflective pools, and hidden side canyons. There are date palms, historic borax mining equipment, and volcanic craters.

Take a tour through Scotty’s Castle, one man’s dream retreat, or drive to Dante’s View as the sun leaves the valley. It’s a big park, with lots to see, and it’s a lot easier when the temperatures are in two, not three, digits.

Unlike many other parks, Death Valley’s peak season is during the winter and early spring. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least-crowded. It is advisable to make camping reservations in advance.

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain.

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round.

Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two, so bring extra layers.

Rio Grande Village is the center of visitor activity during the winter months. Great scenery, warm temperatures, abundant wildlife, and full visitor services make this a must-see location for any Big Bend outing. Rio Grande Village has an NPS campground and visitor center, and a concession-operated camper store, laundry, and shower facility. The store also runs the Rio Grande Village RV Campground, the only campground with full hook-ups.

Ringed by massive cliffs and amazing views, the Chisos Basin is a year-round focal point. Numerous trails begin in the basin, and range from short walks to longer backcountry hikes. The paved, 0.3 mile Window View Trail provides an excellent place to view the mountain peaks or watch an evening sunset.

A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a number of services in the Basin including the lodge, restaurant, and camper store. A 60-site campground is located in the lower portion of the developed area.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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