Tailgating RV Style: The Next Four

We’re less than two weeks away from the opening of the 2015 college football season. It’s been a long, cold winter and a hot summer waiting for the season to get here, but it’ll be worth it once the nation’s best teams hit the gridiron again.

Auburn (Courtesy tailgateman.com)
Auburn (Courtesy tailgateman.com)

While your favorite players are preparing for the season, you should be preparing, too—for tailgating. Done properly, college football is an all-day experience, from loading up your car with the day’s supplies to the celebration following a thrilling victory for your team.

Tailgating is a huge part of that equation. Great food, beverages, and friends all make tailgating special, and there’s no better place to do it than at a college football game. Some places do it a little bit better than others, though.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we detailed the top four tailgating schools in college football. In today’s post we look at the next four.

Auburn

In Auburn, Alabama, football is religion. And the faithful have an incredible cathedral in Jordan-Hare Stadium, which will get even better this fall. Jordan-Hare seats 87,451 and will add the largest scoreboard in college football this season.

It’s the epitome of a Southern football experience, and Auburn fans get there early—like, days early—in their RVs, parking near Jordan-Hare and soaking up the feeling of college football in the SEC.

Auburn fans are friendly and cook a wide variety of foods, and they’re also friendly to visitors, offering a “War Eagle” to all passerby. If you love football and a good party, Auburn is not to be missed.

Texas (Courtesy gamedayr.com)
Texas (Courtesy gamedayr.com)

Texas

With a 6-7 record in 2014, the first season of Texas’ Charlie Strong experience wasn’t what any of the involved parties wanted. But that won’t change the enthusiasm around Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, which seats 100,119 and is one of the nation’s nicest facilities, reflecting Texas’ rich athletic coffers.

Texas’ tailgating scene is large, rowdy, and somewhat spread out, as the university is located in Austin, which has a population of 912,000. If you’re in town for football, find some barbeque from one of the city’s best BBQ joints like Franklin Barbeque, or head out to Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Centennial Park, which is just across the street from the Erwin Center, Texas’ basketball arena, is an epicenter for tailgating, although not the only popular area.

Spend a Saturday tailgating in Austin with Longhorns fans, and there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked.

Clemson

Clemson (Courtesy tailgatershandbook.com)
Clemson (Courtesy tailgatershandbook.com)

Over the last seven years, Dabo Swinney has transformed Clemson into one of the nation’s best programs, with four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. That makes Clemson an elite program, but the truth is that the football is only catching up to the tailgating experience.

Memorial Stadium, which seats 81,500, will add an Oculus to its already impressive recent renovations. Clemson has an SEC-style game-day experience, with some fans arriving days before the game in their RVs to claim the best tailgating spots. On game day, stadium lots are full of fans who grill and put out amazing spreads of food that they’re happy to share with others.

Just make sure you’re in your seat in time to see the Tigers run down the east-end-zone hill in what Brent Musburger dubbed “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”

South Carolina

South Carolina (Courtesy ilovetotailgate.com)
South Carolina (Courtesy ilovetotailgate.com)

Last fall was a big disappointment in Columbia, with South Carolina’s four-year streak of 11-win seasons coming to an end with a 7-6 season. That certainly hasn’t dampened enthusiasm surrounding USC’s program, however.

Williams-Brice Stadium, which seats 80,250, is set away from South Carolina’s campus in what could be described as an industrial area of Columbia. However, on fall Saturdays, it comes alive with garnet-and-black-clad fans who flock from all over the Palmetto State to support the Gamecocks.

The centerpieces of the area are the Cockabooses, 22 tricked-out, repurposed former train cars which sit on a stretch of retired track near Willy-Brice. They attract the attention of college football fans on a regular basis and sell for up to $300,000 (in the rare event one comes on the market, that is).

Worth Pondering…

What started out with a few sandwiches and a couple of beers before the game…has evolved the tailgate party into great American sports tradition.
—Chiff.com

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Tailgating RV Style: The Top Four

Tailgating and football go hand in hand, but on college campuses around the country, the fans often take it to another level. The union of football and tailgating is a marriage celebrated every Saturday with a “renewal of vows.”

Ole Miss (Courtesy of live.oxfordms.com)
Ole Miss (Courtesy of live.oxfordms.com)

It’s a combination of passionate, lifelong fans, the excitement of young college crowds, and of course, the good ol’ pigskin.

Another college football season is almost here. Get out the grill, stock up the cooler, and let the party begin!

Here’s a look at the top four tailgating schools in college football. This is not a scientific list, but rather one that was ranked based on, err…OK, my biases.

Ole Miss

Mississippi is home to the legendary Grove, Ole Miss’ tailgating location for generations. A 10-acre, tree-lined area which does not allow automobiles, the Grove is a mecca for Rebel fans and one of the most unique tailgating environments in college football.

Tailgating and football have been one and the same here since the game first took hold over 100 years ago. Unlike some places where the fans are rowdy, the atmosphere at the Grove is welcoming, family-friendly, and even “sublime.”

2014 was a special year in Oxford. With coach Hugh Freeze’s guidance, Ole Miss finally had a football team worthy of its tailgating success. The Rebels won nine games and upset then-No. 1 Alabama at home, sending The Grove into convulsions of excitement.

You can find all sorts of Southern food there and a genteel atmosphere that lends itself to incredible people-watching. Tailgating goes above and beyond at Ole Miss. It’s a must-do for any serious college football fan.

LSU (Courtesy of LSU)
LSU (Courtesy of LSU)

LSU

If you have a college football bucket list, an LSU home game has to be on the list. It’s one of the most unique and raucous environments in college football, both for the experience inside Tiger Stadium and the atmosphere that surrounds it.

Tiger Stadium seats 102,321, which makes it the fifth-largest city in Louisiana on game days. LSU fans are rabid, arriving well before games in their RVs and setting up tailgates across campus well before kickoff on Saturday.

Louisiana knows how to do one thing better than any state in the country—Cajun! The dishes you’ll see prepared on a Saturday outside the stadium are truly amazing. Not only do you have some of the nation’s best fans, but they bring the absolute best food to the table too—duck, gumbo, sausage, craw fish, etouffee, and grilled alligator.

The food might be better than the football. LSU fans are friendly and willing to share with visitors, and they cook numerous Cajun and Creole dishes that are a delight to the senses. It’s a unique experience and may be the best in college football.

Alabama

Alabama (Courtesy bamahammer.com)
Alabama (Courtesy bamahammer.com)

Since his arrival eight years ago, Nick Saban has done plenty to restore Alabama to national relevance, most notably with three national championships. But even before Saban came to town, the Crimson Tide already boasted a rabid fan base. His success has only ignited their fervor.

Following a recent expansion, Bryant-Denny Stadium now boasts a seating capacity of 101,821, and Crimson Tide football remains one of the toughest tickets to get in America.

It’s also a fun tailgating experience, with some fans arriving days in advance to claim parking spots for their large motorhomes.

Chances are, you’ll hear more than your share of “Sweet Home Alabama” and, with an Alabama win, the famous “Rammer Jammer” chant. It’s a must for any serious college football fan.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M (Courtesy youtube.com)
Texas A&M (Courtesy youtube.com)

The fans at Texas A&M have been compared to a cult. They take their football so seriously that the old saying “Football is a religion in Texas” couldn’t possibly ring truer.

Texas A&M is only beginning its fourth season in the SEC, but the Aggies have shown they’re a perfect fit for the league on the field and in the tailgates. College Station lives for Aggie football, and it starts on Friday nights before home games with Midnight Yell practice.

Following a recent $450 million renovation, Kyle Field seats 102,512 fans, making it the SEC’s largest stadium and the fourth-largest in college football.

Be sure to try some brisket and beer while you’re in town, and don’t forget to visit the gravesite of A&M’s Reveille collie mascots outside Kyle Field, which famously has a working scoreboard on site.

Worth Pondering…

Graham is as Southern as black-eyed peas, scuppernong wine, she-crab soup, Crimson Tide tailgating and a dog with ticks. She is so relentlessly Southern she makes me feel that I was born in Minnesota!

—Pat Conroy

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Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 fee from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park's most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $25).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

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

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

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

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

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

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

Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn't be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The parkland along the Guadalupe River is indeed good country.

See it, believe it, for yourself.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wyman Meinzer

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Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips

For many Americans, summer is the time to hit the open road.

Bryce Canyon 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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon 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. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 85 percent of Americans, or 198 million people, are planning time away in the coming months, up 13 percent from 2014. And 89 percent of them will take a summer road trip.

Although the majority (68 percent) of these Americans are planning at least one week-long road trip, (on par with 2014), more are opting for extended vacations and setting out for at least two weeks this year (36 percent vs. 32 percent in 2014).

With school out for the summer break and the weather warm, the possibilities are endless.

But where to go? How to decide on the destination? Where to point the RV for the very best fun, scenic, and relaxing escape?

Each state has unique appeal, with great camping and outdoor activities available. There are national parks, state parks, county and regional parks, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, All American Roads and other scenic byways, historic sites and cities, mountain retreats, museums, and theme parks.

Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway's best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway’s best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every major journey begins with a plan: where you’re going, where you’re stopping along the way, and how you’re getting there.

And for financially conscious travelers, the budget will make the call though it doesn’t have to mean less enjoyment.

To assist frugal travelers plan their summer road trips, WalletHub compared the 50 US states to find the most fun, scenic, and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations—and the ones that’ll have them busting a U-turn.

To find the most road trip-friendly destinations in the US, the states were compared across three equally weighted dimensions, including driving and camping costs, road conditions and safety, and fun and scenic attractions. Next they identified 20 relevant metrics including fuel prices; quality of roads and bridges; and number of national parks, scenic byways, and attractions.

Selected results follow:

Overall Ranking (Best 5; 1-5): Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota, Washington, Ohio

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall Ranking (Worst 5: 46-50): South Dakota, Mississippi, Delaware, North Dakota, Connecticut

Lowest Average Fuel Prices (1-5): South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri

Highest Average Fuel Prices (46-50): Washington, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska, California

Lowest Price of Camping (1-5): Nevada, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona

Highest Price of Camping (46-50): Maine, California, Road Island, Maryland, Connecticut

Most National Parks Per Square Mile (1-5): Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii

Fewest National Parks Per Square Mile (46-50): Iowa, Alaska, Wisconsin, Nevada, Illinois

Most Scenic Byways (1-5): California, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Idaho

Fewest Scenic Byways (46-50): Hawaii, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Connecticut, Delaware

Fewest Car Thefts Per Capita (1-5): Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Idaho

Most Car Thefts Per Capita (46-50): New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Washington, California

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lowest Average Cost of Car Repairs (1-5): Nebraska, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico

Highest Average Cost of Car Repairs: (46-50): Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina

What then should we take away from the results of the research? What are the implications? Will it alter our travel plans? If not, why not?

For many RVers and other summer road trippers, scenic attractions and national parks will override fuel or camping costs.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we detailed four states that stood out from the rest as great RV travel and camping destinations: two in the West (New Mexico and Utah) and two Eastern states (South Carolina, and Georgia). Interestingly, in the overall ranking, these four states ranked number 22, 6, 12, and 13 respectively.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Lewis Carrol

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Choosing Your Perfect RV Camping Destination

A key factor in planning any vacation or road trip is the RV parks and campgrounds.

A top rated RV resort, A+ Motel & RV Resort is located in Cajun Country near Lake Charles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A top rated RV resort, A+ Motel & RV Resort is located in Cajun Country near Lake Charles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choosing an RV park sight unseen can be like playing the lottery. Many parks and resorts feature a variety of amenities, entertainment, and fun activities for the entire family and cultivate an atmosphere that’s welcoming for all ages enabling families to enjoy quality time together.

But not all RV parks and campgrounds are created equal and no one park is perfect for everyone.

Before leaving home, take the time to check out the best camping parks along your intended route and at your camping destination.

Citing GuestRated as the source, Wicked Good Travel Tips notes that only 34 of an estimated 4,000 campgrounds and RV parks earned an ‘A’ rating in 2014—less than one in 100 parks.

GuestRated.com surveys guest satisfaction using an online process for RVers to review and rate their camping experiences and provide feedback available to other campers and park owners. Of those campgrounds and RV parks, eight emerged as super-stars by earning an ‘A’ rating for 6 years or more.

A top rated RV resort, Wine Ridge RV Resort is located in Pahrump, Nevada. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A top rated RV resort, Wine Ridge RV Resort is located in Pahrump, Nevada. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While social media has a meaningful role to play in assisting campers select the “perfect camping site” a less subjective, opinion-based rating scale is still a key determinant of quality RV parks and campgrounds.

Our go-to resource in selecting RV parks and resorts, the Good Sam Campground Directory uses a three-number rating that assesses the park’s amenities, cleanliness, and environment with each rating category measured on a scale of 1 to 10.

Less than 1 percent of parks or campgrounds receive a 10/10*/10 rating which indicates superior facilities that are well maintained, clean, well-appointed restrooms, and a highly appealing appearance. Campgrounds are inspected annually by RVers for RVers.

Of the eight campgrounds and RV parks that emerged as GuestRated super-stars, only two received the coveted Good Sam10/10*/10 rating in their 2015 Campground Directory: Lake George RV Park, Lake George, New York, and Ocean Lakes Family Campground, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Additional details on these two parks and the other six is available in an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing.

A top rated RV park, Seven Feathers RV Resort is located in southern Oregon off I-5. © Rex Vogel, all rights
A top rated RV park, Seven Feathers RV Resort is located in southern Oregon off I-5. © Rex Vogel, all rights

What we like and prefer in an RV park may be totally different from what your family desires. Given different personalities and wants and needs of RVers, no one park can be all things to all people, but many can fulfill the majority of wants and needs.

While we have not visited any of these eight campgrounds and RV parks, we have personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping at 14 of the 2015 “Best of the Best”, the top-rated Good Sam RV Parks and Campgrounds (10/10*/10).

A listing of these outstanding parks follow:

Alabama: Lake Osprey RV Park, Elberta

Arizona: Sundance 1 RV Resort, Casa Grande

California: Indian Water RV Resort & Cottages, Indio

Louisiana: Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Louisiana: A+ Motel & RV Resort, Lake Charles

Massachusetts: Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort, Foxboro

A top rated RV park, Cajun Palms RV Resort is located in Cajun Country at Henderson. © Rex Vogel, all rights
A top rated RV park, Cajun Palms RV Resort is located in Cajun Country at Henderson. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Nevada: Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas

Nevada: Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump

Oregon: Seven Feathers RV Resort, Canyonville

Texas: Buckhorn Lake Resort, Kerrville

Texas: Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club MHP, Mercedes

Texas: Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, Mission

Texas: Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca

Washington: Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick

And yes, we would return to these parks in a heart-beat.

You decide. Remember, getting there is half the fun.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Lewis Carrol

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Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners

Planning to take your pet camping with you this summer?

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then you are in good company.

More and more campers and RVers are traveling with their pets and finding it makes camping even more enjoyable. Camping and pets are, in most cases, a good mix.

According the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), more than 50 percent of RV travelers bring pets on their travels. Among these pet owners, 78 percent bring dogs, 15 percent travel with cats, and the remaining pet owners travel with birds or other small pets.

And in the travel industry at large, more and more families are traveling with their pets and experts say pet travel is fast becoming a multi-billion dollar industry due to the popular trend.

Pet Relocation reports that 60 percent of families traveled with their pet in 2010 and that number continues to grow.

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling with your pet can be rewarding for you and your family’s pet but the key to a successful camping trip or any mode of vacation travel is advanced planning and preparation, common sense, and sometimes a dose of creativity. Only friendly, non-aggressive dogs should be brought to campgrounds.

The most important thing to remember before making plans, is to make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel. A pre-vacation check-up with your veterinarian is just what the doctor ordered to make sure Fido or Fluffy is up to snuff and ready to hit the road. Make sure your pet is up to date on all shots and bring copies of vaccination records with you, as you never know when you might need them.

When packing for pets, it’s important to remember food and water dishes, an extra collar and leash, licenses, medicines or supplements, brushes, tie outs, shampoo, and something familiar from home like a toy or blanket. If a dog is comfortable sleeping in a crate at home, that should be brought along too. Consider giving your pets bottled water for continued consistency.

Ensure your pet is properly identified. Also, obtain identification with the address of your destination.

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carry a photo of your pet. You’ll be glad you did if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of making, photocopying, and posting “lost pet” notices.

Bring along your pet’s bed and favorite toys so it will feel comfortable and at home on the road. If traveling with a feline friend, think through the cat-box arrangement. Having extra litter, a covered litter box, plastic bags for disposal, scoop, and baking soda to cover the bottom of the box will keep mess and odor to a minimum.

Your dog feels as cramped as you do after hours of traveling. It’s important that you walk your canine pet when you take rest stops. If your pet is a cat, walks aren’t an issue, but plenty of stretching room is.

To make camping with your pet an exciting experience for the both of you, be sure to research the campsite ahead of time, take note of any restrictions or regulations, and bring the essentials along with you.

When registering at a campground or RV park check the location of the nearest veterinary doctor or clinic and how to get there.

After settling into a camp or RV site with pets, it is important to be a responsible camper and pet owner. This includes cleaning up after pets, keeping them leashed, and making sure they stay out of prohibited areas.

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most important thing to remember is they are your pets and you must make some changes to your RVing lifestyle to ensure their comfort.

They may have an accident in the RV and you need to accept that. They may require medical attention that could extend a stay when you are traveling. You need be flexible in your plans to accommodate for pets when you make the decision to bring them along on your travels and camping trips.

If you plan ahead and are prepared, camping can be a rewarding, memorable experience for both owners and pets.

Worth Pondering…

A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.
―Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

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From Ecocapsule To Romotow: 5 Cool Trailers To Love

Contemporary living design, mobility, and living on the move are very important themes of our fast-moving age.

Fun, creative, and futuristic, here are five distinctly different in design and function.

Ecocapsule

Live Off-grid In An Ecocapsule
Live Off-grid In An Ecocapsule

For many the appeal of an RV road trip is enhanced by getting away from it all and living off the grid for a few days. Now, one design company seems to have taken the idea and turned it on its head, with the introduction of the Ecocapsule.

Packed into a compact form (it’s 14 feet 7 inches long and 7 feet 10 inches wide), the solar-and-wind-powered Ecocapsule merges an energy efficient shape, compact volume, and off-grid capabilities with the luxuries of a warm bed, running water, and a hot meal. The completely self-sustaining design, featuring its own solar panel system and high-capacity 9,700-watt-hour battery, tripled with a 750-watt wind turbine, allows for up to a year’s worth of energy.

BeauEr 3X

BeauEr 3X slide-out caravan
BeauEr 3X slide-out caravan

Originally launched in 2010, this tin-can shaped tourer looks like just another micro-caravan, until you put the key in and operate the telescopic sliding mechanism, which allows this trailer to slide out in both directions, tripling the interior space in just 20 seconds.

Built on an Al-Ko chassis with a polyester bodyshell, Beau claims it is also highly aerodynamic due to its smoothly curved exterior design.

The four-berth layout comprises a pair of double beds, measuring up at an ample 6 feet 3 inches x 4 feet 7 inches and 6 feet 10 inches x 4 feet 7 inches respectively.

But one thing’s for sure—if you pitch up in one of these this summer you will certainly turn heads.

Odorico Pordenone

Odorico Pordenone concept (named after an Italian late-medieval Franciscan friar and missionary explorer traveler)
Odorico Pordenone concept (named after an Italian late-medieval Franciscan friar and missionary explorer traveler)

Czech designer Jakub Novak’s Odorico Pordenone concept (named after an Italian late-medieval Franciscan friar and missionary explorer traveler) allows up to four people to travel together in a home-like environment. Novak envisioned the trailer to have aluminum walls with padding to keep the temperature stable, painted white on the inside but kept silver and given a brushed texture on the outside.

Since Novak’s concept is meant to accommodate four people, the usual lack of living space inside a trailer is addressed by building expandable wings that can pop out at the push of a button.

Safari Condo

Safari Condo Alto R Series (retractable roof)
Safari Condo Alto R Series (retractable roof)

Safari Condo teardrop trailers are lightweight and boast an aerodynamic shape increasing the ease of towing. The Alto R series incorporates an electric retractable roof providing more interior space than traditional teardrop trailers. With the rood open the Safari Condo offers a very comfortable interior height of 82 inches.

Romotow

The Romotow folds out like a Swiss Army Knife
The Romotow folds out like a Swiss Army Knife

A combination of the words ‘room to move’, the Romotow offers a contemporary mobile living design that delivers an experience in a class of its own. A radical departure from current boxy and cumbersome travel trailer designs, it folds out like a Swiss Army Knife to offer roughly 70 percent more living space than an average caravan trailer.

Features include aerodynamic and lightweight construction for increased fuel efficiency and towing stability, power assisted braking, pneumatic shocks, gyro assisted self-leveling pads and struts, and a rear mounted camera. Fit-out variations can include a sheltered BBQ deck area for entertaining and relaxing, windbreak, sliding doors, louvered windows, stylish and easy clean furniture, and more.

Worth Pondering…

Dream as if you’ll live forever, live as if you’ll die today.

—James Dean (1931-1955)

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Blanco: A State Park Comeback

Blanco, an unassuming small town in the Texas Hill Country, takes its name from the local river, which begins its journey in higher elevations west of town. From there, the Blanco meanders in an easterly direction past thriving lavender farms before pooling in town at Blanco State Park.

Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the park, swimmers, canoeists, and anglers enjoy the river’s spring-fed waters. Pecan, common bald cypress, sycamore, cottonwood, box-elder maple, and other trees growing along the river’s edge and in the campground provide shade and a comforting presence for families who rest, play, barbecue, hike, and camp within the park’s compact 105 acres.

When the Blanco River crested at 40 feet thanks to more than 12 inches of rain during Memorial Day weekend, several areas of Central Texas, including Blanco State Park, experienced severe flooding and damage.

But, this popular riverside state park has made a big comeback. After more than two months of closure for cleanup and repairs, Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1.

As before, park visitors are allowed to camp and use the south side of the park for day use activities such as picnicking, fishing, hiking, and biking. All other parts of the park, including the north side day-use area near the dam, will remain closed to the public until the grounds can be made safe for visitors.

Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to damage to the dam the water level is very low, and is not flowing over the dam at this time.

“Although the park has been closed over the past couple of months, park staff and volunteers have been working hard to get the park back open at least partially,” said Ethan Belicek, Blanco State Park superintendent, in a TPWD State Parks Division news release.

“We’re excited to get visitors back in the park to enjoy for the remainder of the summer.”

Due to damaged check valves in the dam, which resulted in water loss in the swimming area, Belicek cautioned visitors to call the park to check water levels prior to arrival.

“We hope to make that repair within the next few weeks, which will allow the swimming area to resume normal levels,” he said.

Originally developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934, most of their creative work still exists in the form of an arched stone bridge, rock fences, native rock picnic tables, and stone couches. The shady rock seating is positioned among native pecan trees, providing a great spot for picnics.

The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure, was  built in 1885. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure, was built in 1885. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $17-$23 plus the $4 per person park entrance fee. Nine campsites offering 30-amp electric service, water, and sewer are available for $20 nightly; eight sites offering 50-amp electric service, water, and sewer are available for $23; and 12 sites offering electric service and water are available for $17. Weekly and monthly rates are available during the non-peak season (November through February).

Wi-Fi is also available within the park.

The Town Creek Nature Trail, a landscaped, quarter-mile walking path lined with native plants and large live-oak trees, connects the state park to Blanco’s downtown square. The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure built in 1885, is the square’s most prominent building and anchors a historic district (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) that includes 46 properties. Many of the old buildings house restaurants, cafés, antique shops, outlets for locally-produced arts and crafts, and other enterprises.

Throughout the town, century-old limestone buildings are a testament to the German colony that settled in the river valley.

The baked products at Deutsch Apple embodies the home-baked taste everybody loves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The baked products at Deutsch Apple embodies the home-baked taste everybody loves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among my favorite downtown indulgences, the Deutsch Apple is about a mile southeast of Blanco’s courthouse square at the intersection of Loop 163 and RR 165. Items baked fresh daily include apple pie, pecan pie, apple-pecan cake, and apple-pecan muffins.

Meanwhile, looking at the statewide picture, only four Texas state parks remain closed out of more than 50 that were impacted during May flooding events; Cedar Hill State Park, Lake Somerville State Park (all units), Lake Whitney State Park, and Ray Roberts Lake State Park (all units). Damage assessments and repairs are under way at those sites.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wyman Meinzer

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No Regrets Camping: How Not To Enjoy a Camping Trip

You don’t have to be the Born Survivor to enjoy a camping trip; there are options for every camping skill level and travel taste.

Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping choices range from RV parks and resorts to the bare basics often found at national forest campgrounds or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) dispersed camping areas.

Whatever your preferences, here are 15 bad moves make while camping.

1. Ignore fire bans. As awesome as smores are, adhere to campground rules regarding fires. If the authorities in charge of the campground or national forest say no fires, they mean no fires. It is your responsibility to be fire safe when camping. Before you go, check to see if there are fire bans in place where you plan to visit, and act accordingly.

2. Gather wood without checking. Even when fires are allowed, gathering of wood may not be. Ask first, and then gather only down and dead wood in designated areas. Never cut live trees or branches from live trees.

3. Start a fire with gasoline. Assuming that there is no burn ban, you should be prepared to start your fire with appropriate fuel. If not, then we hope you remembered your first aid kit.

Camping at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Burn wood that does not fit in the fire pit. So you found an awesome log that will burn for hours, only it doesn’t fit in the designated fire ring. And you forgot your hatchet. Your plan is to just lay it across the fire or stick in one end. It will only burn the part in the fire, right?  Wrong! Keep your fire to a manageable size. Make sure children and pets are supervised when near the fire. Never leave your campfire unattended

5. Miss the stars. How you could you ignore this amazing view?! It’s easy when you live in the city to forget that stars even exist. Look up at night when you camp. It’s life-changing.

6. Feed the wildlife. As much as your social media page would be enhanced by photos of chipmunks eating potato chips, nothing about it is good for the animal. And then there are the campers that occupy your site next who will not be able to enjoy a sandwich without being harassed by begging critters.

Camping at Leasburg Dam State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Leasburg Dam State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Play loud music. Camping is about enjoying the natural world. Try listening to the wind in the trees, the gurgling of the stream, or the chattering of the birds. Besides, your music is annoying to the neighbors.

8. Don’t give your kids camp chores to do. Camping is filled with life lessons for children. From setup to cleanup, there are confidence-building tasks that your kids should be doing.

9. Stay glued to your devices. And don’t let your kids do it either. Camping is the perfect time for a digital detox.

10. Watch TV. Stars > Netflix anyhow. Every moment of a camping trip that you spend watching TV is a moment when you could have been enjoying your companions, your surroundings, and the simple serenity of doing nothing.

11. Overestimate your vehicle. Don’t take a two-wheel drive SUV off-roading. Don’t take chances with bald tires or faulty gas gauges. Know what your vehicle can and cannot do and camp somewhere within that range of ability.

12. Overestimate your outdoor skills. Rock climbing on a cruise ship does not qualify you to climb the face of a mountain. Nor does watching two seasons of Naked and Afraid make you a survival expert. Be honest with yourself about your skills and plan accordingly.

Camping at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Underestimate the wildlife. That ain’t no teddy! Bears, raccoons, and other wildlife can make your camping trip miserable if you underestimate their survival skills. They can unzip, unlock, and chew through things with astonishing efficiency. Learn how to critter proof your trip before you ever leave home.

14. Leave anything behind. “Leave no trace” is the campers’ creed, and it applies even in organized campgrounds. It means that when you pull out of your campsite, there should not be any sign that you and your group were ever there.

15. Disrespect the campground. Respecting the facility goes beyond simply cleaning up after yourself; it means not carving initials into picnic tables, parking only on designated hard surfaces, and finding a way to leave it better for the next guy, not worse.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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