Happy New Year from Vogel Talks RVing!

Time glides with undiscover’d haste
The future but a length behind the past.

—John Dryden

The End is almost here!

The majesty that is Zion © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is article # 140 since my first post on August 18, 2010. Okay, the end isn’t near, but the end of the year is almost here, and it’s time to think about wrap-ups as 2010 draws to a close.

The end of the year is the traditional time for doing a summary, and some reflection.

Looking back there were certain events and articles that kindled reader interest and comments. Please allow me to highlight one from each month.

August: Schwarzenegger vetoes California holding-tank bill

California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has vetoed AB 1824, a controversial bill that would have prohibited the sale and use of some of the most effective and widely employed holding tank chemicals utilized in waste facilities and toilets on boats and recreational vehicles. Continue reading →

September: Membership camping: Consider all factors before buying

In 1985, Jack and Mildred Kidwell, a Reynoldsburg, Ohio couple in their late 40s bought a Thousand Trails camping membership. Since then, they have paid thousands of dollars in finance charges and membership dues, the couple told Columbus NBC-4i News. Now at age 72 and with severe arthritis, Jack Kidwell said they had to sell their recreational vehicle two years ago, but Equity Lifestyle Properties, the parent company of Thousand Trails membership campgrounds is trying to keep them paying. Continue reading →

October: Snowbirds flock south for the winter

The Joshua Tree is just one of hundreds of plants native to this national park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As Neil Young once sang, “the summer ends and the winter winds begin to holler all around the bend…” The cooler temperatures have many of us thinking about the coming winter and the joys of dealing with snow, ice, bone-chilling cold, and heating bills that challenge the national debt. Continue reading →

November: 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! We spent the month of October completing our version of the Grand Circle Tour. Continue reading →

December: Cuisine of New Mexico

Chile, Food of the Gods. 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.” Millions of folks from all over the world have come to know exactly what she meant. The people, the culture, the landscape, the climate, and the cuisine—New Mexico just gets under your skin and takes hold. Continue reading →

Altamira Oriole at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, headquarters of the World Birding Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As 2010 draws to a close, I thank you for reading, providing feedback, and coming back frequently to read my latest article! Thank you for your continuing support!

A Happy New Year to all my readers. Best wishes for 2011. Find what brings you joy and go there. Remember, the journey, and not the destination, is the joy of RVing. Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in an RV.

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

Worth Pondering…

We will open the book. Its pages are blank.
We are going to put words on them ourselves.
The book is called Opportunity and its first chapter is New Year’s Day.

—Edith Lovejoy Pierce

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Place in the Rocks: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ

From the mesa east of Chinle on the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Sliding Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. People have lived here for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, occupies a unique place in the heritage of native American Indians. You can drive the park rims by yourself and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

The word ‘de Chelly’ is a corruption of the Navajo word “Tsegi,” meaning “the place in the rocks”.

The word Chegui was found in Spanish diaries referring to the canyon and was probably spelled according to what was heard. As American settlers moved to the Southwest they also adopted the Spanish name, Chegui. Once again, settlers mispronounced and misspelled Chegui, assuming it was the Spanish word for canyon, hence Canyon de Chelly.

The town of Chinle, on the other hand, was named for its location. The Navajo chief, Ch’inli’, referred to the mouth of the canyon where the water flows out. As with many towns around the reservation, Chinle began as a trading post in 1882. Traders influenced missionaries, schools, and government agencies to set up near trading posts as that was where people gathered. Chinle’s first mission was established in 1904 and the first government school in 1910.

Anasazi, who are believed to be the ancestors of modern Hopi and Pueblo Indians, built intricate homes here between 1100 and 1300, using adobe bricks carved from the soft red sandstone. Some of the dwellings were up to five stories high and housed 30 to 40 families. Several sites include kivas—large round rooms dug into the ground, used for ceremonies.

Face Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After seeing the amazing cliff dwellings, and the beautiful canyon itself, we would definitely return in a heart-beat, and there’s no question about putting it high on our ‘Top 10 List’.

Canyon de Chelly far exceeded our expectations.

Self-guided drives

Driving the canyon rims and viewing the canyon from the overlooks is an excellent introduction to Canyon de Chelly and gives you an idea of how else you might want to explore the canyon.

To assist you, a motoring guide and a trail guide are available at the bookstore in the visitor center.


Did You Know?
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is comprised entirely of Navajo tribal trust land with a resident community within the canyons. A backcountry permit and authorized guide are required to enter the canyon except for the White House Trail.

To be continued tomorrow…

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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Place by Flowing Waters: Aztec Ruins National Monument, NM

Melting snow and rain from the 14,000-foot peaks of Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, feeds the Animas as it winds its way south through a narrow and fertile valley before flowing into the San Juan River southwest of the modern town of Aztec.

An attractive entrance and ample parking enhanced our visit to Aztec Ruins National Monument. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The river waters fertile bottomlands lined with stands of willows and cottonwoods must have seemed attractive to the wandering band of Anasazi, a skilled farming people looking for a new home.

In about 1110, they selected a high ridge along the west bank of the Animas, opposite the present town of Aztec, to construct a large dwelling of sculptured and fitted stones. Built over a four-year period, it was an E-shaped structure of about 400 rooms and 24 kivas that reached three stories high in places.

About 85 years later, the residents of Aztec abandoned the region, and Aztec lay deserted.

The abandoned town on the Animas would soon become a unique bridge between two divisions of the Anasazi—the artisans of Chaco Canyon and the cliff dwellers of Mesa Verde.

About 1225, a group of Mesa Verde people left their high mesa and deep canyons in southern Colorado to move into the abandoned Aztec complex.

They added new dwellings, including what is now called the “East Ruin,” which remains largely unexcavated. They remodeled sections of the abandoned pueblo, now known as the “West Ruin,” added new styles of kivas and constructed unique corner doorways, which are rare in Southwest pueblos.

In about 1100, the Anasasi settled near the present town of Aztec. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Despite their considerable efforts in refurbishing Aztec, the Mesa Verdeans didn’t stay long. By about 1275, they also began to drift away to escape drought, food shortages, and failing resources which severely impacted the social structure.

By 1300, the stone dwellings on the Animas had been abandoned to the ravages of the centuries.

In the mid-1870s, American settlers also selected the Animas Valley and founded their town across the river from the site selected centuries earlier by the Anasazi. They believed the stone city they discovered on the opposite bank of the Animas to have been the work of the famed Aztec civilization of central Mexico. Thus, they called their new town Aztec, and the prehistoric town across the river became Aztec Ruins.

A century of excavation and analysis by archaeologists would later establish that the Aztecs had nothing to do with the ancient Animas settlement. Rather, it was the product of the Anasazi, a once little-known Indian culture of skilled builders, craftsmen, and farmers that had flourished centuries before the rise of the Aztecs.

Today, descendants of the Anasazi live in the pueblos along the Rio Grande, at Zuni, in west-central New Mexico, and in the Hopi villages of eastern Arizona. In their history and oral traditions, they know the stone city on the Animas as “The Place by Flowing Waters.”
Today, the extensive remains of this remarkable culture are preserved as Aztec Ruins National Monument. The ruins were designated as a World Heritage Site by the United Nations in 1987.


Did You Know?
Ancestral Pueblo peoples at Chaco Canyon and Chimney Rock used sun and shadows to track the changing of the seasons. Recent studies indicate the Great Kiva windows at Aztec were purposely aligned to solar and lunar events as well. Was this an astronomical observatory?

Aztec Ruins National Monument


Operating Hours: Open 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. most of the year; 8:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. Memorial Day to Labor Day

Admission: $5/adult (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Location: On Ruins Road about ½ mile north of Highway 516, in the City of Aztec

Camping: No camping facilities

Address: #84 County Road, Aztec, New Mexico 87410

Contact: (505) 334-6174

Worth Pondering…
Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.

—Miriam Beard, American writer

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Icon of the Old West: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, AZ & UT

Sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the quintessential Western backdrop made famous in movies directed by John Ford.

Photographers line up with tripods for late afternoon photos near the Navajo Tribal Park Visitor center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

One of the grand  est—and most photographed—landmarks in the United States, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a sprawling, sandy preserve that straddles the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

The tribal park preserves the Navajo way of life and some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest.

The area is also known for dramatic, mesmerizing lighting, with the sun illuminating the towers and casting long shadows on the valley floor.

Monument Valley’s towers, which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet, are made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, with a base of organ rock shale. The towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

The area is entirely within the Navajo Indian Reservation near the small Indian town of Goulding, established in 1932 as a trading post, and now with a comprehensive range of visitor services including a recreational vehicle park with full hookups.

The Goulding Trading Post established in 1932 is worth a visit. A full-service RV parks is located nearby. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The towers, with names like the West Mitten, Gray Whiskers, Elephant, and Three Sisters, drew the attention of director John Ford, who featured them in the John Wayne westerns Stagecoach (1939) and She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949). They also have played a part in the more recent movies, Thelma and Louise (1991) and Forrest Gump (1993).

Today, Monument Valley is still a popular backdrop for films and postcards—as well as the ancestral home of the Navajo people, who still reside here today as part of the Navajo Nation, the largest Native American reservation in the United States.

Visitor Center

Start at the visitor center and take in the panoramic view of the world-famous Mitten Buttes and Merrick Butte. You’ll also find information on self-guided tours, a restaurant with native Navajo cuisine, and a gift shop.

Guided jeep tours led by Navajo tour operators are available at the center—giving you the best view available of some of the most notable landmarks in Monument Valley. Navajo-guided tours also provide access to hidden wonders and a glimpse at an ancient culture.

Driving it

Or for a nominal fee visitors can tackle the rugged 17-mile loop drive across the valley floor unescorted. The park road winds past the valley’s best red rock buttes and spires, with 11 stops for photos. Allow at least two to three hours at the posted 10 mph.

The dirt road can be driven in a sedan if the weather is good and you’re careful. But sport-utility vehicles are preferable due to their high clearances. The road is rough, so you’ll need to skirt the rocks that threaten your oil pan and to drive steadily through patches of sand to avoid getting stuck.

Expect to eat the valley’ orange dust, because other vehicles will kick up thick clouds of it during the dry weather that you’ll find in this high desert most of the year.
Watch out for the area’s hard but infrequent rainstorms, which can make the road virtually impassable.

Travel tips

Some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest are found in Monument Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tribe bans rock climbing, open fires, alcoholic beverages, and the removal of rocks or artifacts. It also reminds visitors to respect the privacy of the Navajos and to ask permission and expect to pay a gratuity before photographing a Navajo. Off-trail hiking is permitted only with a hired tribal guide. Drinking water is unavailable beyond the visitor center.

Photo tip

The best stops for photographing the towers are the Mittens and Merrick Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, The Hub, the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Springs, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb.

The best times for photos are dawn and dusk when the shadows lengthen and the sun brings out the reds and oranges in the buttes.

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park


Operating Hours: May-September, 6:00 a.m. -8:30 p.m.; October-April, 8:00 a.m.-4:30 p.m.

Time zone: Unlike Arizona the Navajo Nation observes daylight saving time

Admission: $5/person

Elevation: 5,564 feet

Size: 91,696 acres

Location: Along the Utah/Arizona state line just east of Highway 163, about 22 miles southwest of Mexican Hat, Utah and 24 miles north of Kayenta, Arizona

Camping: $10/night (dry camping, but what a view)

Address: PO Box 360289, Monument Valley, Utah 84536

Contact: (435)727-5874/5879/5870

Worth Pondering…

But can’t you hear the wild?

It’s calling you.

Let us probe the silent places,

Let us see what luck betide us;

Let us journey to a silent land I know.

There is a whisper on the night wind,

There’s a star agleam to guide us,

And the wind is calling,


Let us go.

—Robert Service

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Tracking the Anasazi: Hovenweep National Monument, UT

Nobody knows what happened here. For centuries, the Anasazi carved a place for themselves out of the rocky Southwest landscape in what is now southern Utah and Colorado. They planted fields, built homes and kivas along the sandstone cliffs.

Then the Anasazi left.

Several well-preserved structures are located at Square Tower, Hovenweep’s largest and most accessible unit. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The ruins of this ancient civilization can be found in the high desert of the Four Corners, amid miles of washes, canyons, and rolling hills of juniper.

The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona.

Around A.D. 900 a group of Anasazi Indians left Mesa Verde and settled 100 miles west at what is now called Hovenweep National Monument, which straddles the Utah-Colorado state line. By 1300 the site was deserted, and the Anasazis had probably gone to other sites in northwestern New Mexico or northeastern Arizona.

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated.

The monument is noted for its solitude, clear skies and undeveloped, natural character.

The largest and most accessible is Square Tower, where several well-preserved structures are located. The ruins present a remarkable tribute to the Indians’ masonry skills. Throughout the ruins, visitors may find castles, towers, check dams (for irrigation), cliff dwellings, pueblos, and houses. Petroglyphs can also be found in the area.

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is a system of three loop trails at the Square Tower Unit.

But the purpose and square design of the towers baffle archaeologists, who are still trying to decide whom these Anasazis were defending themselves against.

Many outlying groups are also available for visitation. They include Holly, Horseshoe, Hackberry, Cutthroat Castle, and Cajon. The land surrounding the area is owned by the Navajo Nation, Bureau of Land Management, State of Utah, and private landowners.

Hovenweep doesn’t have the services of Mesa Verde but it’s certainly worth a visit.

The national monument has a small visitor center, where rangers can direct you to the outlying ruins, and a 26-site campground with flush toilets and running water, but no showers.

The sites are designed for tent camping, though a few sites will accommodate RVs 25 feet or less in length.

Hovenweep National Monument is 20 miles north of Aneth on a gravel and paved road.

Photo tips

Hovenweep is a paradise for photographers. The rich colors of the sandstone glow in the crisp sunlight against a sky so blue it seems almost unreal.

Hovenweep National Monument straddles the Utah-Colorado state line. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The buildings cling to the canyon rims, offering themselves for close-ups or cross-canyon shots that will reward even the beginning photographer.

And the night sky at Hovenweep is a treasure all its own, with air so clear and free of light-pollution that the Milky Way stretches from horizon to horizon in a jeweled rainbow, a spectacle seen only at a few select places on the planet.

Hovenweep National Monument


Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $6/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Annual visitation: 28,000

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails or anywhere in the backcountry

Elevation: 5,900 feet

Size: 5,362 acres

Location: From Blanding or Bluff, Utah, turn east off Highway 191 on Utah State 262 to the Hatch Trading Post; follow the Hovenweep signs for 16 additional miles

Camping: $10/night; all sites first-come, first-serve

Address: McElmo Route, Cortez, CO 81321

Contact: (970) 562-4282

Worth Pondering…

I hope you dance because…


Time is a wheel.

Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along.

Tell me, who wants to look back on their years and wonder where their years have gone.

—Mark D. Sanders and Tia Sillers, I Hope You Dance

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Green Table: Mesa Verde National Park, CO, Part 2

Mesa Verde’s Treasures
Among Mesa Verde’s hundreds of cliff dwellings and mesa-top structures, the most spectacular and frequently visited are listed below.


Cliff Palace

The largest and most captivating of Mesa Verde’s cliff villages, Cliff Palace is located on Chapin Mesa, and features multistoried house blocks, courtyards, kivas, and stone towers built beneath a massive cliff overhang. Built about 1210, Cliff Palace contains 220 rooms and 23 kivas. It can be entered only on ranger-guided tours from mid-April to early November. However, the site can be viewed year-round from a canyon overlook.

Balcony House
A small dwelling, with 45 rooms and two kivas, Balcony House was built high on a ledge several hundred feet above the floor of Soda Canyon. Tree-ring dates from timbers used in construction indicate the village was occupied for nearly 200 years, from about 1096 to 1278, and may have been the last occupied dwelling on the mesa. Named for the walled and still-intact balcony which fronts a four-room structure at one end of the dwelling, Balcony House can be entered only on ranger-guided tours.

Square Tower House
Built in the mid-1200s in an alcove in the cliffs of Navajo Canyon, Square Tower House is a small but stunningly picturesque settlement of about 60 rooms and two kivas. An 86-foot-high square tower built against the rear wall of the alcove gives the structure its name. The tower, which actually was a four-story dwelling, is the highest structure on Mesa Verde. Square Tower House cannot be entered, but the site is easily viewed year-round from a canyon overlook.

Far View Complex
This series of mesa-top pueblos on the northeastern edge of Mesa Verde dates to about 1050. The flat, relatively open area affords a spectacular view of Mancos Valley to the east and Montezuma Valley to the west. A farming community, Far View was ideal for the basic Anasazi crops of corn, beans, and squash.

An upclose look at one of the more spectacular cliff dwelling at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Far View House, Pipe Shrine House, and Coyote Village are the major units in this complex. Pipe Shrine House was named for the large number of ceremonial pipes recovered when it was excavated in the 1920s. Also in the complex, which is open year-round, is a stone tower believed to have served as a lookout station.

Long House
On Wetherill Mesa in the western section of the park, Long House is Mesa Verde’s second largest cliff dwelling. Built in the early 1200s on three levels in a canyon alcove, the pueblo has 150 rooms, 21 kivas, and a unique rectangular dance plaza.


Morefield Campground is located 4 miles inside Mesa Verde. With nearly 400 sites, there’s always plenty of space with the campground rarely full. Each site has a table, bench, and grill. Camping is open to tents, trailers, and RVs, including 15 full hookup RV sites that require reservations.

2010-2011 Park schedule

Mesa Verde National Park is open year-round, but some of the facilities, tours, and access to archeological sites are seasonal. To make the most out of your trip, take a look at the 2010 or 2011 Park Schedule to see what will be available at the time of your visit.


Did You Know?
Contrary to popular belief, the Ancestral Puebloan people of Mesa Verde did not disappear. They migrated south to New Mexico and Arizona, and became today’s modern pueblo people.

Mesa Verde National Park


Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: $10-15/vehicle (good for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Pets: Not allowed on any hiking trails, in archeological sites, or anywhere in the backcountry

Size: 52,122 acres; about 81 square miles

Elevation: 6,000-8,500 feet

Location: From Cortez, east on Highway 160 to the park turnoff

Camping: Starts at $23/night + tax; reservations accepted

Address: P.O. Box 8, Mesa Verde, CO 81330

Contact: (970) 529-4465

Worth Pondering…

Great quote from travel writer Doug Lansky: “The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he comes to see.” Think about it.

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Merry Christmas

Greetings fellow RVers, Snowbirds, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the out-of-doors…and all readers!

Merry Christmas! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thank you for your readership this year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

It’s Christmas Eve and we’re in central Texas midway between Austin and Houston. I’m dressed in shorts and a T-shirt. The temperature is a pleasant 68 degrees. The bright sunshine lifts the human spirit and fills our hearts with promises of fun and adventure.

Forget sugar plums! When I drift off to sleep tonight, I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RVing destinations I’d love to visit.

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Snowbird Christmas
Cranky as the RV’s space heater,
I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,
wait for the coffee pot to finish playing
reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,
elderly snowbirds make mischief,
cackling like contented
chickens under the Arizona sun.

A grateful respite from grueling
gray cold fronts of Buffalo,
Edmonton, and Denver.
A time of celebration and decoration.

Christmas greetings from the Great State of Texas! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity
scenes, Wal-Mart Santas, and reindeer,
a plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,
trailers , old converted greyhounds.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather
in the clubhouse by the artificial tree,
reminiscing of Christmases past,
speaking of children in childish voices.
—Author Unknown

Worth Pondering…
May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

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Devil’s River Ranch: A Christmas Gift for the State of Texas

Texas Spoken Friendly

The owner of the 17,638-acre Devil’s River Ranch in Val Verde County has agreed to sell the ranch to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) for $13 million, significantly less than the $15,875,000 fair market value calculated earlier this year by an independent appraiser.

Devils River Ranch, which borders about 10 miles of the lower reaches of the spring-fed Devils River and holds considerable natural and cultural resources, will not be open to the public until at least summer of 2013. Photo courtesy TPWD

This addition to the state park system which adjoins the 67,000-acre Amistad National Recreation Area will be paid with $10.1 million in private donations, $2.7 million in state funds allocated for park land acquisition, and $1.3 million in federal Land and Water Conservation Fund dollars. The donations also will cover operating expenses for two-and-a-half years as well as development of a master plan for joint public use of the ranch and the Devils River State Natural Area, 12.7 miles upstream.

The revised deal was announced Monday, December 6 in a TPWD news release. The land sale formally closed via electronic fund transfer on Tuesday, a day following the Texas Parks and Wildlife Commission’s approval of the purchase.

“What an exciting Christmas gift for the State of Texas,” Commission chair Peter Holt said moments after the commission voted unanimously to authorize TPWD Executive Director Carter Smith to formally close the purchase of the Devils River Ranch.

“The Devil’s River Ranch is a stunning piece of property with incredible potential,” said Commissioner Dan Hughes, who after visiting the site led the fund-raising effort along with agency director Smith. “This land is a treasure for all generations to come.”

At Monday’s meeting, of 13 persons who testified before the commission, all said they favored the Devils River Ranch purchase. Of 24 written comments received from the public by TPWD, 20 supported the purchase.

Map courtesy TPWD

The ranch, which borders about 10 miles of the lower reaches of the spring-fed Devils River and holds considerable natural and cultural resources, will not open to the public until at least summer of 2013 as the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department develops a comprehensive master plan and public use plan for the site.

The Devil’s River is a Rio Grande tributary and considered the state’s last “wild” river. The river is so pristine that it is used as a benchmark for clean water standards.

It is also home to endangered species, including the tiny black-capped vireo bird. Rare plants and desert fauna also thrive there, nestled in unique crevices, canyons, and mesas dotted with prehistoric rock art.

“The public input process has worked the way it should—we’ve heard from Texans across the state and have been responsive to that input,” Holt said. “One of the things we’ll be doing in response to that input is putting together a working group to develop a long term plan for the protection of the river and for ongoing operation of the two units of the Devils River State Natural Area.”

Holt said the working group will include landowners, paddlers, businesses, non-profit partners, and others who will seek solutions to address the recreational interests of Devils River users as well as the property rights of adjacent landowners.

Devils River Ranch fronts the east side of the Devils River for about 10 miles before the river begins merging with the Amistad International Reservoir on the Rio Grande near Del Rio. The ranch, which is largely desert scrub, includes a large lodge, several other residences, and an airstrip. Photo courtesy Laurence Parent, TPWD

The deal was in contrast to a land swap proposal in early November in which the state and Dallas home builder Rod Sanders would have exchanged ownership of the two large tracts, and Sanders would have received $8 million in cash.

That proposal was controversial for several reasons, including the amount of cash Sanders would have received at a time when state finances are strained, the critical loss of public access to upper reaches of the river, and the hurry-up nature of the deal at the last regularly scheduled meeting of the commission this year.

The agreement reached this week is remarkable for both the size of the land protected and the number of private donors involved.

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

More about Texas State Parks

Caprock Canyons State Park

Sea Center Texas

Garner State Park

Read More

Membership camping: 8 Western Horizon Parks for Sale

Western Horizon Resorts (WHR), an owner and operator of private membership, RV resorts, and RV travel related services, has listed eight of its recreational vehicle parks for sale, with a combined 1,839 RV sites for a total of $28.13 million.

Indian Waters RV Resort, a Western Horizon membership campground in Indio, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A privately held company, WHR was founded by Jim Loken and family in 1984 and was designed to provide RVers with “an exceptional outdoor vacation experience”. Currently the corporation operates 14 resorts, 5 affiliated resorts, Vista Group RV Insurance, and two affiliated camping networks: Adventure Outdoor Resorts (AOR) and Sunbelt Resorts.

Western Horizon Resorts reported purchasing eight resorts from 2000 to 2005, but selling four resorts since then. From 24 RV resorts, Jim Loken said WHR is now concentrating on 14 core resorts.

Some of the resorts that were sold were too far away from their head office in Gunnison, Colorado, while others were underperforming, he said.

The group listing of RV parks for sale includes:

  • Charleston Park RV Park, a 20-acre property that includes the adjoining Pahrump Valley Winery and Symphony’s Restaurant
  • Ramona Canyon RV Resort in San Diego County, California
  • Desert Pools RV Resort at Desert Hot Springs in southern California’s Coachella Valley
  • Colorado River Oasis Resort at Ehrenberg, Arizona, across the Colorado River from Blythe
  • Pilot Knob at Winterhaven, California, across the Colorado River from Yuma
  • Desert Shadows/Casa Grande RV Resort at Casa Grande, Arizona
  • St. David RV Resort in southeastern Arizona near Benson
  • Camp Verde RV Resort at Camp Verde, Arizona.

It’s part of an overall company business strategy, Jim Loken, president and CEO of WHR recently told the Pahrump Valley Times.

St. George RV Park was recently sold by Western Horizon Resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“It’s really quite simple. We’re not trying to sell the business, we’re just trying to sell the real estate. Let someone else be the landlord and just pay rent. We’ve done that so far with a number of resorts. A number of the resorts just built up so much appreciation and it doesn’t do us any good,” Jim Loken said.

“We sold a number of them to resorts like us that are in the business and then we lease back sites to our members so it accomplishes everything we’re after. It allows us to concentrate on our core business. Now we don’t have to take care of those pieces of our property we’re able to take care of our members,” Loken went on to say.

In a question and answer format on the company website, Western Horizon Resorts answers a question why they have sold some resorts:

“We have found that some resorts have fallen short of their financial goals. We assess usage, dues paying members, new member sales and usage by members against the costs involved to continue operating the resort. Weighing the benefits that our members receive from a particular resort against these factors is how we decide to sell a particular property. It is never our desire to have to sell a property, but often it is the most responsible decision to sell a resort so that the other WHR resorts do not have to subsidize the operation.”

Desert Shadows/Casa Grande RV Resort at Casa Grande, Arizona is one of 8 Western Horizon parks for sale. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jim Loken said there haven’t been any serious nibbles at the offer yet.

“One of the resorts — I won’t say which one — we bought the resort for $1 million 15 years ago and now it appraises for almost $6 million,” he said. “If somebody else wants to be the landlord and look at future appreciation we might as well take advantage of that.”

The potential sale of the eight resorts raises many questions and future implications for WHR members and future members.

If, as Jim Loken says, all he is doing is selling the real estate, why do members no longer have access to the parks he recently sold to ELS: St. George RV Park in southern Utah, Tall Chief RV Resort in Washington State, Valley Vista RV Park in Benson, Arizona, and Desert Vista RV Park in Salome, Arizona?

There is considerable information, misinformation, and confusion about membership camping. In order to assist the consumer in making an informed decision I have recently posted a series of nine articles.

Disclaimer: I am a member of Western Horizon Resorts but do not represent them or sell memberships.

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Green Table: Mesa Verde National Park, CO

Mesa Verde National Park is located in southwestern Colorado off Highway 160, 9 miles east of Cortez and 35 miles west of Durango. It is the lone national park in Colorado that we visited during our Grand Circle Tour.

Mesa Verde cliffs soar 2,000 feet above grassy plains. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rising sharply between the Mancos and Montezuma valleys, the broad escarpment of Mesa Verde, a Spanish term for green table, beckons with a promise of adventure and mystery. The mesa’s cliffs soar 2,000 feet above grassy plains. Along its piñon-juniper ridges and in its deep canyons are hundreds of surface pueblos, cliff dwellings, stone towers, and pithouses attesting to a time when a prehistoric Indian people called this great mesa home.

They were the Anasazi, who abandoned Mesa Verde more than 700 years ago, but to present-day Indian people of the Four Corners region, the Anasazi have never left. They believe the spirits of their ancestors still inhabit the mesa.

The Anasazi left no written record, and details of the things vital in their daily lives have long since vanished.

“Archaeologists have been able to reconstruct much of the workaday life at Mesa Verde from things left behind. But the intangibles that held life together remain obscure,” wrote archaeologist and area resident Florence Lister in Mesa Verde: The First 100 Years, a collection of essays, photographs, and articles edited by the Mesa Verde Museum Association. “Because the Ancestral Puebloans had no written language to document their world views, we know nothing of their oral traditions, their songs, their dances, their sacred ceremonies, or the devastating circumstances that drove them away.”

The first view of a cliff dwelling is 21 miles (approximately 45 minutes) past the entrance station along a steep, narrow, winding road. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since archaeologists do not know what the Mesa Verdeans called themselves, they have adopted Anasazi—the Ancient Ones—the name given to them by the Navajos, who claim an ancestral link. More recently, the National Park Service has adopted the term Ancestoral Puebloans.

Unique in the park system, Mesa Verde is the first and only park created for the protection and preservation of archaeological resources and is the only World Heritage Site in Colorado. Conde Nast Traveler chose it as the top historic monument in the world, and National Geographic Traveler chose it as one of the “50 places of a Lifetime— the World’s 50 Greatest Destinations”, in a class with the Taj Mahal and Great Wall of China.

Mesa Verde does not lend itself to a hurry-up visit. It takes time to savor the magic of its eight centuries of prehistoric Indian culture. As a vintage slogan at the park advises:
“It’s a place where you can see for 100 miles and look back in time 1,000 years.”

The intricate architecture is as awesome to behold today as it was when cowboys and ranchers first saw it. Two men looking for lost cattle, Richard Wetherill and Charles Mason, came upon the most spectacular site, the 150-room Cliff Palace, in 1888.

Mesa Verde National Park was established 18 years later, in 1906.

From Mesa Verde’s entrance a two-lane paved road winds upward 2,000 feet through piñon-juniper forests and canyons. At Park Point, on the northern edge of the mesa at 8,600 feet, the visitor is treated to a panoramic view of the Montezuma Valley to the west, and the Mancos Valley, framed by the 14,000-foot San Juan and La Plata mountains to the east.
Fifteen miles south of the park entrance, Far View Visitor Center provides information and displays designed as an introduction to the Anasazi civilization.

Immediately south of the visitor center, a farming complex dates to about 1050. Two large surface pueblos—Far View House and Pipe Shrine House— and smaller settlements make up the complex.

At Far View, the road divides. The west fork leads to Wetherill Mesa and a number of major cliff dwellings, including Long House, second largest at Mesa Verde. The south fork leads to Park Headquarters on lower Chapin Mesa and the major cliff dwellings of Cliff Palace, largest in the park, Spruce Tree House, Balcony House, Square Tower House, and others.

Near Park Headquarters is the outstanding Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum. With scores of exhibits and five unique dioramas, the museum provides a comprehensive overview of the area’s ancient people.

There are approximately 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Only one of the major Mesa Verde sites is available for self-guided tours. Spruce Tree House is at the bottom of a canyon behind the park’s museum. A five-minute walk down a paved trail leads to this 114-room, eight-kiva structure—the one initially discovered by Wetherill. One popular  feature is a reconstructed and roofed kiva visitors can access by ladder.

Tickets to tour other popular larger structures—Cliff Palace, Long House, and Balcony House—must be obtained in advance at the visitor’s center. Tour groups are limited in size.
Our brief visit whetted our appetite for more. In the words of another time traveler from the future…I’ll be back.

Did You Know?
Park Point, the highest elevation in the park (8,427 feet), has a 360 degree panoramic view that is considered one of the grandest in the country.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

We shall not cease from exploration

And the end of all our exploring

Will be to arrive where we started

And know that place for the first time.

— T. S. Eliot, Little Gidding

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