Hell of a place to lose a cow: Bryce Canyon National Park, UT

As you near the rim for the first time, the view is dramatic and overwhelming. Numerous pines veil the grandeur of the amphitheater until you reach the edge. Then, abruptly, the land falls away and looking down you see hundreds of delicately carved spires and hoodoos come alive in pastel colors.

Bryce Canyon's limestone has eroded into rock fins and spectacularly-shaped spires called hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display.

Bryce Canyon National Park isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos”, these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name.

The native Paiutes provided the best description of Bryce, calling it “Unka timpe-wa-wince-pock-ich”, or red rocks standing like men in a bowl-shape canyon.

Years later when pioneer Ebenezer Bryce built a ranch at the bottom of the canyon, he described the area as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.

Fir trees grow amid towering rock walls at Bryce. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon is named after Ebenezer Bryce, an immigrant from Scotland, who established a homestead in the Paria Valley in 1875. Bryce was sent by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because his skill as a carpenter would be useful in settling the area. Locals started calling the canyon with the strange rock formations near his home “Bryce’s Canyon.”

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night.

Bryce is a compact park—just 56 square miles—which makes it easier to explore than many national parks in the West.

Drive the park’s 18-mile rim road near sunrise or sunset when the light is most dramatic and the hoodoos, stained by minerals, glow fiery red, burnt orange and delicate pink in the slanting rays of sun. Fourteen viewpoints along the rim road look down hundreds of feet into the natural amphitheaters where the hoodoos cluster.

Bryce Canyon National Park is 24 miles southeast of Panguitch on Highway 63; east of the junction of Highways 12 and 89.

Hiking

A hike into the hoodoos puts one in another world. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations.

In just a few of hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

But a word of caution: Many trails that descend to the bottom are moderate to steep, making the return part of the hike—which is uphill—the most strenuous. Bryce’s high elevation requires extra exertion, so assess your ability and know your limits. Wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support and carry plenty of water.

Photo tips

Towering sandstone spires turned fiery by late afternoon sunlight. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Light affects the saturation and intensity of color. Lighting conditions vary during the day and are also affected by weather and the seasons.

In general, morning and late afternoon are the best times for photographing the canyon from the viewpoints along the rim. In the morning, the hoodoos glow orange with the rising sun; the light is rich and warm, and shadows bring out texture and form. Details become flatter as the sun rises and light becomes harsher. The late afternoon sun penetrates the narrow gorges, making scenery along the trails come alive. As sunset approaches, colors become muted.

To darken the sky and saturate colors use a polarizing filter.

Bryce Canyon National Park

Details

Elevation: 8,000-9,100 feet

Operating hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day; temporary road closures during and shortly after winter snow storms may occur until plowing is completed and conditions are safe for visitor traffic

Location: 4.5 miles south of the intersection of Highways 12 and 63

Admission: $25/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Camping: $15/night

North Campground: 13 RV (no electricity) campsites available by reservation during certain times of the year, and 86 other tent or RV campsites that are available on a first come-first serve basis; for reservation, click here

Sunset Campground: 100 sites in 3 loops; 20 Tent Sites are available for reservation during certain times of the year in Loop B; for reservation, click here

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails or viewpoints

Contact: (435) 834-5322

Address: PO Box 640201, Bryce Canyon UT 84764-0201

Worth Pondering…
For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

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Our Grand Circle Tour, Part 2

In a wild, remote, and somewhat forgotten part of the Southwest, Hovenweep National Monument contains six separate prehistoric ruined villages dating from the Pueblo period of the mid-thirteenth century. The land is flat with bushy mesas split by steep-sided, quite narrow ravines, and the settlements consist of small ruins on or just below the rim around the head of a canyon.

Mokee Dugway drops 1100 feet in three miles into the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On a loop route out of Bluff, in southern Utah, we visited Natural Bridges National Monument, Mokee Dugway, and Valley of the Gods. Natural Bridges National Monument is rather remote and not close to other parks so is not heavily visited (only 85,000 in 2007). We hiked down into the canyon and walked under Owachomo Bridge, the oldest bridge in the park, for some spectacular views. Natural Bridges far exceeded our expectations and we would return in a heart-beat!

We continued south to Mokee Dugway, an 1100-foot drop. It looks innocent enough on the map. Sure, there’s a squiggly part and it’s marked as “unpaved”, but it’s a state highway, right? Actually, it’s not so bad, but it is definitely an interesting ride. You look wa-a-a-a-y down, directly at the desert floor below as you drop into the Valley of the Gods.

At first glance, you might mistake this Utah destination for Monument Valley, which spans from southern Utah across the Arizona border. And you’d be very close to right.
The formations are so similar because, in fact, from Valley Of The Gods, the spires of Monument Valley can easily be seen in the distance. So, in effect, the same forces of nature that shaped the Navajo owned Monument Valley created this area, which is administered by the BLM.

We toured the area via a 17-mile dirt road that winds amongst the eerie formation; since the road is rather steep, bumpy, and washboard in parts, we put our Suzuki in 4-wheel drive.

Like a small scale-Monument Valley, the Valley of the Gods is worthly of a drive through. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding. The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience. We enjoyed this beautiful land.

At Aztec Ruins National Monument in northwestern New Mexico we took the self-guided ½-mile walk through rooms built centuries ago. What remains today is a walled village with almost 400 rooms on three levels, over a dozen kivas (circular ceremonial areas), in a very good state of preservation.

With the unseasonably warm weather still hanging on, we decided to stay at Farmington (New Mexico) another day to do a day trip to Mesa Verde National Park in southwestern Colorado. With more than 4,000 archaeological sites, Mesa Verde provides visitors with a great window into the past, to when the Ancestral Puebloan peoples built cliff dwellings and coaxed a life from what today we see as a harsh landscape.

A stunning view unfolded as we climbed the winding road to Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The first word that came to my mind was “stunning”. And that was just the moment we entered the park. The road into Mesa Verde is steep, narrow, and winding. As we wound our way up to 8,500 feet, we began to realize this isn’t a place we can do in a day. A World Heritage Site, Mesa Verde offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from A.D. 600 to A.D. 1300. Today, the park protects over 4,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States. After walking down the cliff to the Spruce Tree House, we did a ranger-led tour of Cliff Palace, the largest and best-known of the cliff dwellings in Mesa Verde. The site has 150 identified rooms and 23 kivas.

This park has a surprisingly large campground—435 sites, and park officials say they rarely fill. Each site has a table, bench, and grill.

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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Our Grand Circle Tour

The American Southwest is famous for incredible scenery, red rock pinnacles, and formations, brilliant sunsets, and deep canyons. It is uncommon land, for an uncommon experience, and it’s all within a stone’s throw of Utah. Few states can boast of so much!

Autumn arrives early at 9,000-foot Fish Lake. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We spent the month of October completing our version of the Grand Circle Tour.

It was grander than we could ever have imagined. During this time we visited five national parks—Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Mesa Verde; five national monuments—Grand Staircase Escalante, Cedar Breaks, Hovenweep, Natural Bridges, and Aztec Ruins; Valley of the Gods, and Monument Valley; and drove Utah Highway 12 Scenic Byway.

From Salina, Utah, we drove to Fish Lake at an elevation of over 9,000 feet. The area was an absolutely awesome sight with the golden aspens and the blue skies and lake.

The magnificent and ever-changing salmon pink and red colored pinnacles and spires and brilliantly colored hoodoos of Bryce Canyon just may have the most awesome scenery we have seen anywhere! On our fourth visit to Bryce I got my wish—to see Bryce in the snow. When we reached Yovimpa Point at noon the temperature was a chilly 23 degrees with a dusting of snow—over 40 degrees colder than during our first visit just five days earlier. It was even warmer back home in Alberta!

Highway 12 Scenic Byway has been recognized as an All America Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the most spectacular driving highways in the West, Utah Highway 12 Scenic Byway winds along the northern border of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument. We found it to be a beautiful drive with numerous interesting places to explore. It twists. It turns. It curves. It climbs. It has been designated an All America Highway.

At Cedar Breaks National Monument we admired the spectacularly colored cliffs, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin. The red cliff formation, aptly named the Amphitheater, is a fantastic display of eroded cliffs with all sorts of hoodoos and sculpted shapes. This expansive area of rock walls, spires, and columns spans three miles across and runs over 2,000 feet deep. The temperature at 10,350-foot Cedar Breaks was in the mid-30s with strong blustery winds and blue skies.

Capitol Reef National Park is the over-looked sibling among Utah’s five “national parks.” Centered round a late-19th century agricultural community, the park captures a portrait of settler life as well as an outdoor cathedral of red-rock landscape. Capitol Reef encompasses a 100-mile natural upheaval in the earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold. The Navajo call the area the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow”, an apt description of the many hues of the landscape here. The “capitol” comes from the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resemble capitol building rotundas, and the “reef” comes from the rocky cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like coral reefs.

One of our favorite national parks, Arches, located five miles north of Moab, is a red rock wonderland containing some of the most scenic and inspiring landscapes on Earth. Although over 2,000 arches are located within the park, Arches also contains an astounding variety of other geological formations. We marveled at the colossal sandstone fins, massive balanced rocks, soaring pinnacles, and spires that dwarf us as we explore the park’s viewpoints and hiking trails.

Canyonlands, Utah’s largest national park, is composed of three distinctive districts: The Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Islands in the Sky, the most popular section of Canyonlands, is an elevated mesa where we viewed the canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers 2,200 feet below. Whichever direction we looked, we noticed the incredible beauty of Canyonlands National Park. Since the canyons follow a north-south direction, I found Islands in the Sky fraught with challenges for photography. However, my polarizing filter saved the day!

Highway 129 Scenic Byway follows the Colorado River near Moab. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On another day we visited the Needles section of Canyonlands—only 15 miles south of the Island in the Sky, but 137 miles by road. Here the massive red and white eroded sandstone pillars extend for many miles, forming a jumbled landscape.

Dead Horse Point State Park, on the way to Canyonland’s Island in the Sky District, shouldn’t be missed. Located atop a mesa, the point of the park provides stunning views of the Colorado River some 2,000 feet below and the surrounding cross-section of geology.

The gateway town of Moab with its many RV-friendly campgrounds, restaurants, and shops is powered by muscle—mountain bikers, climbers, river runners. Some of the best mountain biking in the country lies within the Slickrock Mountain Bike Trail system. Take a day off from visiting the parks and instead take a float trip down the Colorado River, or learn how to canyoneer.

The nearby La Sal Mountains southeast of Moab are threaded with a nice loop drive that takes you out of the red-rock desert and up into evergreen-thick forests and turnoffs to lakes and a U.S. Forest Service campground.

To be continued tomorrow…

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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Snowbird destinations: Utah Dixie, Part 2

Way down south in…Utah

Dixie has it all: mild weather, red rock hiking, proximity to national and state parks, golf—even a little cotton.

For a campground with fantastic views of a lake with surrounding red rocks, check out Quail Creek State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the early 1860s when Mormon pioneers came to the far southwestern corner of Utah to grow cotton, the Washington County area has been known as Utah’s Dixie.

The communities of St. George, Hurricane, and Springdale are situated near several national parks, national monuments, state parks, and other scenic treasures that make the region so popular.

Named after pioneers Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, Snow Canyon is almost an urban park for St. George with paved bicycling trails, interesting hikes, horseback riding areas, rock climbing, and even lava tubes formed by nearby volcanic activity. Its modern campground with showers and RV hookups is one of the few year-round facilities in the state system.

Located several miles west of Hurricane, Quail Creek State Park is known for warm water, a long boating season, and decent fishing, and includes an ADA-accessible platform. Utah Place Names said the area got its name because the first white settlers found quail near the creek, long before this reservoir was built. There’s a campground here with a fantastic view of the lake and surrounding red rocks.

One of the newest state parks, Sand Hollow located between St. George and Hurricane, offers incredible variety. ATV owners love playing on the large sand dune. This miniature Lake Powell is great for boating, fishing, and swimming. A modern campground with hookups and showers as well as more primitive day-use sites along coral pink sandy beaches are available.

Sand Hollow State Parks offers a diversity of outdoor activities and a big-rig friendly campground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah Dixie’s climate features plenty of sunshine, low annual precipitation, and clean air.

Its year-round warm weather draws folks from the colder climates up north.

Winters are relatively mild with infrequent traces of snowfall which rarely stays on the ground more than a day making the area ideal for year-round golf—ten of Utah’s best courses are located there!

Hard to surpass for its variety of scenic beauty, this area is one of the most popular resort and retirement communities in the Southwest. Winter here—the prices are reasonable.

The largest of the early Mormon settlements in Southern Utah, St. George got its name from one of the pioneers that Brigham Young sent south on a Cotton Mission from Salt Lake City—George A. Smith. Smith, an enormous man who had special chairs built to support his weight, served as the head of the Iron Mission in Cedar City.

Smith earned his title of “saint” by delivering potatoes, considered scurvy preventive if eaten raw, to parties of pioneers traveling across Utah. Young named the city in his honor calling Smith a “Latter-Day Saint”.

Saint George is a beautiful town situated in the red rocks of southwestern Utah on the precipice of some of the nation’s most terrific scenery. A noteworthy feature in St. George is the massive snow-white Mormon Temple, back-dropped by the red bluffs on the north side of town.

Other 19th-century settlements, like the Silver Reef ghost town, have been mostly lost to history. As the town’s name implies, mining powered its growth, not cotton—$10.5 million in silver was mined through the 1880s.

Silver Reef once had around 2,000 residents, including a community of 250 Chinese workers, but little remains. Most notable is the stone Wells Fargo Building, which, after surviving fires and the decline of silver prices, was refurbished in the 1980s. It now houses a small museum and art gallery and studio.

Utah Dixie is a golfer's paradise. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another Dixie ghost town—Grafton—provided a backdrop for the classic Western film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Like St. George, Grafton was founded during the Cotton Mission. But farming was mediocre, and after battling floods and Indian raids, settlers moved to nearby communities. By the 1930s, everyone was gone. Only six buildings now stand, but with cottonwoods and producing orchards, there’s still life in Grafton.

Positive features: Great hiking opportunities, biking, traffic congestion is minimal, national and state parks, scenic beauty, historic sites, variety of golfing opportunities, relatively crime-free area

Negative features: sometimes freezing weather

Worth Pondering…

It is a place where a family can rest at streamside after a pleasant morning hike.

It is a vast labyrinth of narrow canyons where one can become hopelessly lost, shrinking to invisibility beneath dark, towering walls of stone.

One may feel triumph and exhilaration, or awesome smallness atop Angels Landing; thirst and fatigue, or a rewarding weariness, on the return trek from the backcountry.

Perhaps one’s view of Zion is in the eyes of the beholder.

—Wayne L. Hamilton, The Sculpturing of Zion

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Snowbird destinations: Utah

Few other states can match the geological diversity of Utah, which sits at the junction of three geophysical regions: the Rocky Mountains, the Colorado Plateau, and the Great Basin.

While in Utah, explore mountains, deserts, colorful canyons, cool caves, natural bridges, arches, and a big, bold, briny lake. Pictured above: Arches National park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its unworldly scenery and unusual history, Utah ranks among the most intriguing destinations in the U.S. This large western state has magnificent mountains, stark deserts, colorful canyons, cool caves, natural bridges, colorful arches, and a big, bold, briny lake.

Utah is home to five national parks and seven national monuments, making it a paradise for RVers who love the outdoors. Also, the state is justly famous for its excellent skiing, river rafting, biking, hiking, and backpacking.

Although Spanish explorers and mountain men visited Utah in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, settlement was slow due to the state’s harsh conditions.

In 1843, John Fremont explored what is now the Great Salt Lake Valley area, noting not only its weirdly saline water but the fertile valleys shadowing the mountains. Fremont’s findings inspired Mormon leader Brigham Young, then in Illinois, to plan a caravan west to an empty land where his people would not be persecuted.

“This is the right place,” Young stated when arriving with his followers in 1847. The Mormons quickly laid out a city, dug irrigation canals, started farming, and set about creating self-sufficient, church-centered communities in the land they called Deseret.

Canyonlands National Park Islands in the Sky Unit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was their industriousness that gave Utah its nickname, “the Beehive State.”

In 1896, Utah became the 45th state.

National Parks

Utah’s five unbelievable National Parks offers an amazing diversity of natural beauty as well as numerous camping areas for the RVing traveler. Touring these parks, as we did in the fall of 2008, is an incredible experience—one you won’t regret.

One of our favorite parks, Arches, is a red rock wonderland containing some of the most scenic and inspiring landscapes on Earth. Although over 2,000 arches are located within the park, Arches also contains an astounding variety of other geological formations. We marveled at the colossal sandstone fins, massive balanced rocks, soaring pinnacles, and spires that dwarf us as we explored the park’s numerous viewpoints and hiking trails.

Canyonlands, Utah’s largest national park, is composed of three distinctive districts: The Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze. Islands in the Sky, the most popular section of Canyonlands, is an elevated mesa where you view the canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers 2,200 feet below. The Needles section of Canyonlands is only 15 miles south of the Island in the Sky, but 137 miles by road. Here the massive red and white eroded sandstone pillars extend for many miles, forming a jumbled landscape.

The magnificent and ever-changing salmon pink and red colored pinnacles and spires and brilliantly colored hoodoos of Bryce Canyon just may be the most awesome scenery we have seen anywhere! Hiking the unique Navajo loop trail takes you directly down into to the middle of the canyon and allows for many great photo opportunities.

Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park encompasses a 100-mile natural upheaval in the earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold. The Navajo called the area the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow”, an apt description of the many hues of the landscape here. The “capitol” comes from the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resemble capitol building rotundas, and the “reef” comes from the rocky cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like coral reefs.

From the expansive valley floors to the creamy sandstone of towering cliffs rising 2,000 feet above, Zion is a wonderland of visual imagery. The monolithic stone sculptures with a diverse array of colors, lush forests, and roaring rivers are breathtaking.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wonderful beauty of Zion…

In the nobility and beauty of the sculptures there is no comparison…

There is an eloquence to their forms which stirs the imagination with a singular power

and kindles in the mind a glowing response.

—Clarence E, Dutton, geologist (1880)

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RVing and Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks

Many will be on the road traveling today and throughout this Thanksgiving weekend.

Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to reflect on life, liberty, and the pursuit of full hookup campgrounds with really good WiFi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thanksgiving is the biggest travel weekend in America, and RVers are out in force, back on the road, crossing the country in their RVs to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. And many Snowbirds are traveling south to their favorite Sunbelt roost to avoid the rigors of another northern winter.

I have so much to be thankful for! I give thanks to my partner—my wife Dania, my co-pilot—and our family and friends.

With a lifelong love of travel, a condo-on-wheels has always been our destiny. Yes, we’re living our dream! We’ve wintered in Southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Our RV travels have taken us to over 40 states and four western provinces.

I am thankful as Canadian Snowbirds that we have the opportunity of celebrating Thanksgiving in October (Canadian Thanksgiving) and again in November (American Thanksgiving).

Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to reflect on life, liberty, and the pursuit of full hookup campgrounds with really good WiFi.

We're living our dream! Pictured above is our condo-on-wheels at Caralina State Park near Tucson, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re thankful that RV travel is so popular in our own vast and wonderful countries. We are fortunate that the RV industry is rebounding and that RVing is supported coast-to-coast!

I’m thankful for our continued health and safety while traveling. Any time you venture onto highways, you are rolling the dice. So far we’ve enjoyed over 120,000 miles of safe and mostly carefree travel as we cruise the highways and byways of our two great nations!

I am thankful for our freedom. As Americans and Canadians we take so much for granted when it comes to freedom.  We have freedom of speech, expression, the right to vote, and so much more that others across the world only dream of.  That freedom came at a price—and that is the lives of many of our servicemen and women.  So, I also would like to give thanks to our troops.

Combining Birding and Photography with our life on the road is like enjoying pecan pie with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert following a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Oh yeah … and I give thanks to the Internet which has given me the opportunity to share my thoughts on RV Travel.

Stay tuned, friends…the best is yet to come!

What are you thankful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Travels…and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Worth Pondering…
Life is a gift, not an obligation. So make the very best of every single day you’re given!
—Donovan Campbell

RVing and Thanksgiving: Giving Thanks

Many will be on the road traveling today and throughout this Thanksgiving weekend. Thanksgiving is the biggest travel weekend in America, and RVers are out in force, back on the road, crossing the country in their RVs to spend Thanksgiving with family and friends. And many Snowbirds are traveling south to their favorite Sunbelt roost to avoid the rigors of another northern winter.

I have so much to be thankful for! I give thanks to my partner—my wife Dania, my co-pilot—and our family and friends.

With a lifelong love of travel, a condo-on-wheels has always been our destiny. Yes, we’re living our dream! We’ve wintered in Southern California, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. Our RV travels have taken us to over 40 states and four western provinces.

I am thankful as Canadian Snowbirds that we have the opportunity of celebrating Thanksgiving in October (Canadian Thanksgiving) and again in November (American Thanksgiving).

Thanksgiving offers the opportunity to reflect on life, liberty, and the pursuit of full hookup campgrounds with really good WiFi.

We’re thankful that RV travel is so popular in our own vast and wonderful countries. We are fortunate that the RV industry is rebounding and that RVing is supported coast-to-coast!

I’m thankful for our continued health and safety while traveling. Any time you venture onto highways, you are rolling the dice. So far we’ve enjoyed over 120,000 miles of safe and mostly carefree travel as we cruise the highways and byways of our two great nations!

I am thankful for our freedom. As Americans and Canadians we take so much for granted when it comes to freedom.  We have freedom of speech, expression, the right to vote, and so much more that others across the world only dream of.  That freedom came at a price—and that is the lives of many of our servicemen and women.  So, I also would like to give thanks to our troops.

Oh yeah … and I give thanks to the Internet which has given me the opportunity to share my thoughts on RV Travel.

Stay tuned, friends…the best is yet to come!

What are you thankful for?

Have a Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Travels…and we’ll see you back here tomorrow!

Worth Pondering…
Life is a gift, not an obligation. So make the very best of every single day you’re given!
—Donovan Campbell

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Snowbird destinations: New Mexico, Part 2

Snowbird roosts

Though Snowbirds can be found throughout the southern part of New Mexico, the greatest concentration of them are found in the Las Cruces, Deming, Truth or Consequences, and Alamogordo areas.

Las Cruces

Rock of Ages Column at Carlsbad Caverns National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Las Cruces is blessed with 350 days of sunshine, low humidity, warm days, and cool nights. During the winter, when northern states are digging themselves out from under the snow, Las Cruces enjoys daytime temperatures ranging from the upper 50s to lower 60s.

This progressive city, with the New Mexico State University campus, an excellent agricultural museum, and a population of 80,000, is the state’s second-largest city. It regularly appears in listings of best places in America to retire.

History abounds in Las Cruces! In the late 1500s, Spanish Conquistadors marched up the Rio Grande accompanied by settlers in their carretas on their way to establishing a new northern provincial capital, Santa Fe. One of their stopovers became Mesilla, the original Spanish settlement. The agricultural potential of this fertile valley was quickly recognized and the settlement thrived.

The historic Old Mesilla Plaza boasts historical restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.

Today, some of the world’s largest pecan groves spread their shady canopies over the roads along the Rio Grande. The Mesilla Valley is also a major source for chile peppers with cotton, onions, alfalfa, beans, and corn all contributing to the local economy.

Deming

Deming’s climate is dry, hot, and breezy with summer temperatures that can exceed 100 degrees. Winters are mild, with occasional snow that usually melts within a day or two.

Winter visitors add over 20 percent to the Deming population.

Truth or Consequence

Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge south of Socorro attracts thousands of birders from November to early March. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Truth or Consequence—or T or C as the locals call it—is adjacent to Elephant Butte, the state’s largest lake, and is known for its hot mineral baths, museums—and a name that grabs your attention.

Because T or C is relatively unknown, the area is underdeveloped in spite of the beautiful scenery, pleasant climate, and an abundance of recreation opportunities.

It was originally named Hot Springs but changed its name in 1950 when Ralph Edwards promised to broadcast his radio show from any town that would take the name of the show.

Winters are quite comfortable, with an average high of 55 degrees. Though it does occasionally snow, the flakes usually melt away with the afternoon sunshine.

Alamogordo

La Ventana Natural Arch is one of many points of interest at El Malpais National Monument in northwestern New Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alamogordo has a small town flavor that snowbirds enjoy. The city is located between the White Sands National Monument and the base of the Sacramento Mountains, about 70 miles northeast of Las Cruces. White Sands National Monument has the world’s largest deposit of gypsum with huge dunes to slide down or to explore.

Positive features: Great hiking opportunities, traffic congestion is minimal, New Mexico cuisine, national and state parks, historic sites, friendly and welcoming to snowbirds, relatively crime-free area

Negative features: Sometimes freezing weather and occasional snow flakes

Worth Pondering…

The gathering orange stain

Upon the edge of yonder western peak

Reflects the sunsets of a thousand years.

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Snowbird destinations: New Mexico

D.H. Lawrence said it best: “I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever….The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning sunshine high over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend….In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.”

Georgia O'Keeffe Museum in Santa Fe. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The Land of Enchantment” is scrawled across the New Mexico license plate. To someone who hasn’t visited New Mexico that may just seem like a phrase produced by Madison Avenue or a chamber of commerce.

But a visit to New Mexico will quickly enchant and thoroughly cast a spell over you, and you’ll wonder why it took so long to make that initial visit.

Renowned New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keeffe once said, “If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.” Like millions of folks from all over the world, we came to know exactly what she meant. The people, the culture, the cuisine, the landscape, the climate—New Mexico just gets under your skin and takes hold. Whatever form it takes, the New Mexico mystique is a powerful force to reckon with.

The mystique of New Mexico’s American Indian tribes is extremely powerful. The Navajo, Apache, Ute, Hopi, and Pueblo cultures all call New Mexico home. Their unique languages, colorful dances, distinct arts and crafts, and cultural stories and traditions have been passed down through the generations and are intrinsic to the Land of Enchantment.

More and more snowbirds are discovering New Mexico. Wanting to escape the snow shovels and icy roads of the north, they are joining others who have found the perfect place for fun and relaxation in the sun.

El Morro’s Inscription rock in northwest New Mexico bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A diverse range of cultural influences, unique landscapes, an eclectic art community, distinctive cuisine, and spectacular sunsets combine to make New Mexico one of the most enchanting places to visit.

New Mexico is known for its colors: turquoise skies, earthy browns, orange mesas, purple sage.

New Mexico is rich in lakes, rivers, forests, canyons, and mesas that have supported Native Americans, Spanish, and Mexican cultures for hundreds of years.

Snowbirds are drawn to this part of the Sunbelt by relatively mild temperatures, sunny weather, friendly people, and available activities.

Cuisine of New Mexico

When contemplating a return to New Mexico my taste buds tingle in anticipation of chile nirvana—red chiles, green chiles, mild chiles, hot chiles, and everything in between.

New Mexican food is unlike any other. Chiles are the soul of New Mexican cooking, which blends Native American and Hispanic influences into a cuisine unto itself.

It would be a shame not to take advantage of the variety of flavors available in the state’s wide array of restaurants.

The first question you’ll likely hear from your waiter is “Red or green?” Both chile sauces are made from the same chile, but the red chile has been allowed to hang on the plant longer and become fully ripened.

Elephant Butte State Park is a favorite with Snowbirds and locals alike. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Green chile sauce has a sharper, “greener” flavor and is usually hotter than the red, which tastes deeper, somewhat sweeter, and earthier.

Actually, you don’t have to choose; you can have both. The code word, when you’re ordering, is “Christmas.”

One large green chile has as much vitamin C as an orange.

Capsaicin, which gives chile its heat, is used in creams for the relief of muscle and joint pain.

A chile ristra is a string of red chiles traditionally hung in the kitchen or by a door. Many shops, roadside stands, and the Farmers Market sell them.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever…The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning sunshine high over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend…In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

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Snowbird destinations: Alabama and Mississippi

Residents of both states will probably start sending me hate letters for lumping the two states together, but from a snowbird’s perspective there are more similarities than differences.

This is Magnolia Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the Deep South, and there’s a lot of history here.

Be sure to visit some antebellum mansions and small towns. Sample the local pecan pies and Southern food, especially the pork barbecue.

Winter weather will be similar to the Florida Panhandle. It can be chilly and rainy. You many even get an occasional snowflake. But, this far south, the cold spells will be short and usually infrequent.

Boating, birding, and beach life go hand-in-hand with Southern hospitality.

Alabama

Once a poster-child for the slow-to-change South, Alabama now exhibits a modern style and a cultural diversity that may surprise first-time visitors. While there are gracious antebellum mansions and Civil War sites to explore and fields of fluffy cotton and red, pink, and white azaleas to delight the eye, there are 21st-century wonders as well. After all, what other state can boast a space center (Huntsville), Mercedes-Benz visitors’ center (Vance), a nationally-renowned Shakespearean theater (Montgomery), and white sand beaches (Gulf Coast)?

Sugar white sands of the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Alabama became a state in 1819 but the first European explorers arrived when the Spanish sailed into Mobile Bay in 1519. The French were the first to establish a permanent settlement, however, in 1711 at Mobile.

Seven Robert Trent Jones-designed golf courses lead lovers of the game from Huntsville to Mobile. Each course is different and showcases the terrain of the particular area. In total there are 324 holes and over 100 miles of golf within the seven sites along the designated trail.

Geographically, the state runs the gamut from the Appalachian Mountains in its northeast corner to the white-sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico in the south.

This southernmost part of the state borders Florida and the Gulf of Mexico. Here, the scenery—sandy beaches and moss-draped trees—offers a dramatic change of pace from the rest of the state.

RV enthusiasts, always on the cutting edge of travel, and often the first to truly discover an undeveloped region, have long been delighted with the charms of the Alabama Gulf Coast with its long stretches of white sand beaches, imposing sand dunes, enchanting sunsets, magnificent back waters, and delicious local seafood.

Alabama packs a lot of beauty, fun, and good food into its 62-mile long coastline.

Also, don’t miss Ft. Morgan on the western tip of the Gulf Coast. This historic site marks the location of the Battle of Morgan Bay and offers Civil War-costumed individuals reenacting activities from that time period.

Mobile lays claim to hosting the first Mardi Gras, years before New Orleans joined in the party. In February, revelers will find street parades with beads and doubloons galore and a party mood that’s family oriented.

Mississippi

Imagine cotton, catfish, Huck Finn, antebellum homes, and paddle-wheel steamers on a big muddy river, then mix in some blues. Does that make you think of any place in particular?

Big rig sites are available at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sharing its name with America’s most famous and storied river, the state of Mississippi represents the South in many people’s minds. Birthplace of Elvis, B.B. King, and Tennessee Williams, and once home to William Faulkner and John Grisham, the state has given the world great music and literature.

From rolling, pine-covered hills and flat delta plains to the mighty Mississippi and sandy Gulf Coast beaches, the state also offers a variety of geographical vistas to go with its historical, cultural, and recreational options.

In the Mississippi’s southern Gulf Coast region, Gulf Islands National Seashore presents an authentic Gulf of Mexico experience. This park extends across 150 miles of America’s southern Gulf Coast from West Ship Island, Mississippi, to Santa Rosa Island, Florida.

Sugar sand beaches stretch for 26 miles, offering all types of water-related activities and plentiful opportunities for comfortable, gulf-side lounging, and Vegas-style action at the area’s numerous casinos.

The Coastal Region combines 300 years of French and Spanish history, fantastic seafood, deep-sea fishing, neon-lit casino hotel resorts, golf courses, aquariums, adventure sports, backwater bayous, and quaint little towns.

When you’re in Mississippi, odds are you’ll taste pork barbecue. Oh, it might be pulled or chopped, wet or dry, sauce on the side, or dropped on top…but it is usually going to be pork…slow smoked and falling off the bone tender.

You can usually smell the really good barbecue joints a couple of miles away…even with your windows up. Let you nose be your guide to hog heaven.

Positive features: Variety of golfing opportunities, casinos, welcoming attitude toward snowbirds, reasonably priced RV parks, traffic congestion is minimal, birding hotspots, delicious fresh seafood, Mardi Gras parades

Negative features: Cool and damp weather

Worth Pondering…

To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi.

—William Faulkner (1897-1962)

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Snowbird destinations: Louisiana, Part 2

Mardi Gras

The Mardi Gras or Carnival season officially begins on January 6th, or the Twelfth Night. Mardi Gras Day is always 47 days prior to Easter Sunday (Fat Tuesday is always the day before Ash Wednesday).

Most every city and town celebrates Mardi Gras with parades. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mardi Gras season and the delicacy known as King Cakes go hand in hand with literally hundreds of thousands of King Cakes consumed every year. In fact, a Mardi Gras party would not be authentic without the traditional King Cake as the center of the party.

The cake is made with rich Danish dough, baked and covered with a sugar topping in Mardi Gras colors—purple representing justice, green representing faith, and gold representing power.

The cakes are prepared for the period between the Twelfth Night and Ash Wednesday. The King Cake tradition came with the French settlers around 1870, continuing a custom dating back to twelfth century France. Similar cakes were used then to celebrate the coming of the three wise men calling it the feast of Epiphany, Twelfth Night, or King’s Day.

Cajun Country

Visit Lafayette, the heart of Cajun Country and the cultural center of Louisiana’s heritage. Here you’ll discover the rich history of their French, Spanish, and Caribbean ancestors and learn how these diverse cultures came together, creating art and architecture, music and dance, food and celebrations. And what better time than during Mardi Gras.

A visit to Lafayette and Cajun Country is one you won't soon forget! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While at Lafayette be sure to visit New Iberia and nearby Avery Island which is located on a salt dome and is home of the world famous Tabasco Pepper Sauce Factory. It is hot stuff indeed! There’s a brief but interesting film on the production of the world-famous hot sauce and a great gift shop.

The Jungle Gardens, created by Tabasco’s founder, the late Edward Avery McIlhenny, are nearby. These gardens are also a bird sanctuary sheltering flocks of herons and egrets amidst lush plantings of camellias, azaleas, and tropical foliage.

Louisiana cuisine

Louisiana has the most creative food in the nation. When enjoying Louisiana cuisine, one may easily remark, “It’s not heaven, it just tastes that way!”

Some foods are synonymous with Louisiana, such as beignets and jambalaya. Local fare also includes andouille, congri, cornbread, gumbo, crawfish, red beans and rice, bread pudding with rum or whiskey sauce, bananas Foster, and definitely coffee—strong and intense, a brew that envelops and invigorates. No one goes hungry here!

Rich and hearty foods with simple ingredients are qualities of Louisiana cooking. To fully appreciate them, one must remember that Cajun and Creole cooking are the products of 300 continuous years of sharing and borrowing among Louisiana’s ethnic groups. This cultural complexity makes it difficult to define clearly Cajun and Creole, especially with individual cooks proud of developing their own distinctive styles.

What’s Cajun?

Many degrees of hotness available! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cajun culture sprung from the traditions of the Acadians who settled in South Louisiana following their expulsion from Nova Scotia in 1755. This French colonial culture melded with mainland French traditions already in place in Louisiana—and with Spanish, Native American, English, and German influences—as it evolved from the distinctive and unique Cajun culture found today in South Louisiana. Slow-cooked, highly seasoned food, heartfelt music, and a carefree attitude are all associated with the Cajun culture.

What’s Creole?

The term Creole was originally used to identify those “born in the colony,” not in their country of ethnic origin. Later, Creole was used to differentiate those earlier settlers from the many Americans who settled in the region after the Louisiana Purchase, and from the waves of German and other immigrants arriving in the area. In rural Southwestern Louisiana, Creole refers to a blending of French, African, and Caribbean cultures. Natchitoches Parish includes many historic sites significant to the Creole culture.

Today, Creole food is one of Louisiana’s top attractions. It commonly features local seafood, complex sauces, and lots of butter.

Positive features: Cajun and Creole cooking, delicious fresh seafood, birding hotspots, historic homes and mansions, Cajun music and dance, festivals, Mardi Gras parades and King Cakes, reasonably priced RV parks

Negative features: cool and damp weather, sub-par roads

Worth Pondering…
New Orleans…there are few who can visit her without delight; and few who can ever leave without regret.

—Lafacadio Hearn

“New Orleans food is as delicious as the less criminal forms of sin.”
— Mark Twain

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