Banff: Jewel of the Canadian Rockies

One of the best things about Banff National Park is just how accessible the scenery is. Impressive waterfalls, alpine lakes, craggy peaks, and surging rivers sit just a stone’s throw from the scenic roads and highway.

Mt. Rundle, a prominent wedge-shaped peak, overlooks the townsite of Banff
Mt. Rundle, a prominent wedge-shaped peak, overlooks the townsite of Banff © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled amongst the towering peaks and stunning glacier-fed lakes of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is known as a traveler’s mecca for good reason.

Whether by car, RV, bicycle, hiking boots, skis, snowshoes, or canoe, in Banff National Park you can enjoy year-round discovery of the mountainous landscape. As the first national park established in Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, what makes Banff so special is its combination of vast unspoiled wilderness, mountain lakes like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, and the gateway to it all: the Town of Banff.

Lake Louise has become symbolic of the quintessentially Canadian mountain scene. This alpine lake, known for its sparkling blue waters, is situated at the base of impressive glacier-clad peaks.

Located nearby, Moraine Lake, with its indigo blue waters surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks, is another of Canada’s most iconic lakes.

Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1885, Banff was the first national park in Canada. In 1883, two years before the completion of Canada’s first transcontinental railroad, three railroad workers stumbled upon a series of hot springs on the lower shoulder of what is now called Sulphur Mountain. By 1885, the springs and surrounding area were set aside as Canada’s first national park.

The Canadian Pacific Railway immediately recognized the tourism potential of the Canadian Rockies. In 1888, they opened the elegant 250-room Banff Springs Hotel. Chateau Lake Louise soon followed.

Banff National Park sees 4 million visitors each year. The peak season is July and August.

The history of the area is also captured by a number of museums, including the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff Park Museum, Luxton Museum, and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

The hiking in Banff National Park is about as good as it gets—anywhere. What Banff has to offer is variety. Choose any difficulty level, length, and duration and you’ve got a multitude of options. You can hike along the shores of dazzling blue lakes, up to quaint mountain teahouses, through carpets of wildflowers, and up high to spectacular viewpoints.

Nestled amongst the peaks of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is known as a traveler’s mecca for good reason. Whether by car, bicycle, hiking boots, skis, snowshoes or canoe, in Banff National
Nestled amongst the peaks of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is known as a traveler’s mecca for good reason. Whether by car, bicycle, hiking boots, skis, snowshoes or canoe, in Banff National. Respect the fact that mountain weather can change quickly and it can be severe. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For one of the most authentic experiences available to travelers in Banff National Park, hike to your choice of two alpine tea houses at Lake Louise. These historic cabins, nestled quaintly along some of the most breathtaking trails in the country, provide welcome rest and refreshments to visitors. While the hike to just one of these provides a rewarding experience for hikers of many abilities, adventurous hikers can take on the “Tea House Challenge” and trek to both Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers in one day (9 miles round trip).

To travel the Icefields Parkway is to experience one of Canada’s national treasures and most rewarding destinations. Rated one of the world’s great scenic highways by National Geographic, the Icefields Parkway is a world-class journey through a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, more than 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from dramatic rock spires, and broad sweeping valleys.

Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This road heads north from Lake Louise towards the Columbia Icefield, where you can hop on the Ice Explorer and venture onto the Athabasca Glacier—or step out on the newly opened Glacial Skywalk. Other popular stops include Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake.

Banff National Park is a haven for wildlife. While the likelihood of an encounter with an animal is unpredictable, when it does happen—and the animal is viewed from a safe distance—it can be a magical experience.

Watching a herd of elk in a field, big horn sheep grazing along the roadside, a mountain goat scaling a cliff, or a grizzly bear fishing in a creek is something unique to the natural world and the “big backyard” of Banff National Park.

Worth Pondering…

The mountains are calling and I must go.

—John Muir

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Cumberland Island: Wild, Pristine Seashore

Public beaches are often crowded, noisy places. But less popular areas can be incredibly peaceful.

A total of 50 miles of hiking trails meander through maritime forests, interior wetlands, historic districts, marsh ecosystems, and the beautiful beaches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A total of 50 miles of hiking trails meander through maritime forests, interior wetlands, historic districts, marsh ecosystems, and the beautiful beaches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you ready to hit the beach without the crowds? Where you can find a piece of the coast to call your own?

Epoch Times recently named Cumberland Island as one of the top three off the beaten path and secluded beaches in the world. That’s high praise when you’re only bested by Hawaii and Spain.

Published in 21 languages in 35 countries across five continents, Epoch Times said, “Roughly the size of Manhattan Cumberland island is Georgia’s southern-most island and a place where you can truly get away from the modern world. With no bridge to come to Cumberland island the travelers have to use ferry or private boat to get to this beautiful place which is manage by the national park service. ”

Cumberland Island also appears on lists as one of America’s Most Beautiful Beaches and Best Wilderness Beach in the Southeast.

In naming Cumberland Island one of America’s best wild beaches, the Wilderness Society stated, “Glistening white beaches with sand dunes, freshwater lakes and saltwater marshes fill this 16-mile-long island, the northern portion of which is designated Wilderness. Visitors can access the beach at designated dune crossings. Wildlife include alligators, loggerhead turtles and pelicans, as well as many fish that make this a prime place for surf fishing.”

Dungeness Ruins has a very long history to tell. The name came originally from the very first property, which was a hunting lodge named Dungeness, in the area, owned by James Oglethorpe in 1736. In 1803, it was replaced by a mansion built by Nathaniel Greene, which was later on used as a headquarters by the British. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dungeness Ruins has a very long history to tell. The name came originally from the very first property, which was a hunting lodge named Dungeness, in the area, owned by James Oglethorpe in 1736. In 1803, it was replaced by a mansion built by Nathaniel Greene, which was later on used as a headquarters by the British. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although Georgia’s Atlantic coastline is only about 100 miles long, the Peach State is home to 30 percent of the barrier islands along the Atlantic Seaboard. And Cumberland is the largest and fairest of them all with the longest expanse of pristine seashore—18 glorious miles of deserted sand. Truly, this is a bucket list destination.

Before the National Park Service acquired most of the island for a national seashore, 90 percent of it was the private domain of Lucy and Thomas Carnegie (brother of Andrew) and their descendants. The Carnegies bought the island in the 1880s and built five mansions on it during the next two decades. The most superb house was the opulent 59-room, Queen Anne-style Dungeness on the island’s south end.

Dungeness burned nearly to the ground in 1959 from a fire suspected as arson, but its ruins are a must-see for visitors.

We stopped during our visit to the island in early December 2007 to gaze at the tall chimneys, solid brick walls, and other stark remains of the old mansion.

After pausing at an old cemetery where war hero, “Light Horse” Harry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) was interred following his death on the island in 1818, we further explored the island. Continuing the 3 ½-mile Dungeness Trail as it loops around the island’s southern tip, we walked the raised boardwalk over the dunes to the wide, secluded beach, alive with crabs and shorebirds including the American Oystercatcher and Least Tern.

Visitors are reminded these are feral horses and should be treated as wild animals. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Visitors are reminded these are feral horses and should be treated as wild animals. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On several occasions we encountered many of the 250 feral horses that roam the island, descendants of steeds the Carnegies released during their heyday. Beloved by visitors, they are perhaps the most popular feature to the island.

We saw in Cumberland what the Native American inhabitants glimpsed thousands of years ago, as they roamed the densely wooded, 18-mile-long isle of land hunting and fishing.

We saw what enchanted Spanish missionaries saw in 1566. And what endeared the British, who built forts in the early 1700s to protect their fledgling Georgia colony. And what captivated industrialist Thomas Carnegie and his wife, Lucy, who purchased large swaths of the island in the 1880s and built lavish winter retreats.

And what bewitched John F. Kennedy Jr., who married Carolyn Bessette at a tiny African-American church near the island’s north end. He had personally painted and worked on the chapel himself through the years when visiting friend Gogo Ferguson, a Carnegie descendant, and swore he’d wed there one day. And so he did.

After meandering lazily along the wide, sandy, shell-flecked beach, we slowly made our way to Sea Camp dock where we re-boarded the passenger ferry for a sunset cruise back to the mainland (St. Marys, Georgia).

Don’t be late for that last ferry or you’ll have to spend the night on the porch of the visitors’ center.

We walked the raised boardwalk over the dunes to the wide, secluded beach, alive with crabs and shorebirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
We walked the raised boardwalk over the dunes to the wide, secluded beach, alive with crabs and shorebirds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Summer is high season, both for tourists and insects, so be sure to reserve your spot on the ferry and the tour well in advance. There are refreshments on the ferry, but nothing on the island, so be prepared!

Worth Pondering…

The beach is the draw—

17 miles of hard packed blonde sands.

You can walk forever and seldom meet a soul

—Esquire

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White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon

The White Tank Mountains rise west of Phoenix, forming the western boundary of the Valley of the Sun.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Chandler to Buckeye, neat rows of beige roofs and asphalt streets turn to cracked desert dirt, a checkerboard of farm plots and residential communities, and the White Tank Mountains. Thousands of acres of rocky peaks rise steeply to up to 4,000 feet. They’re an icon in the westernmost part of the Valley, about 30 miles from central Phoenix.

Nearly 30,000 acres makes this the largest regional park in Maricopa County. Most of the park is made up of the rugged and beautiful White Tank Mountains. The range, deeply serrated with ridges and canyons, rises sharply from its base to peak at over 4,000 feet.

Infrequent heavy rains cause flash floodwaters to plunge through the canyons and pour onto the plain. These torrential flows, pouring down chutes and dropping off ledges, have scoured out a series of depressions, or tanks, in the white granite rock below, thus giving the mountains their name.

In 1863, when gold was discovered in central Arizona, one of the first roads heading north into that region passed by the eastern side of the mountain range. This road stretched from the Gila River into the new towns of Wickenburg and Prescott.

The road followed an old trail that took advantage of an important source of water in the middle of the desert. In the northeast portion of the White Tank Mountains was a natural basin or tank that held water year round. Named the “White Tank” for the white granite cliffs surrounding it, this large watering hole appears on maps and in journals as an important watering place from 1863 and 1895.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The White Tank was the only water for 20 to 30 miles during those first few years of Arizona Territory history and gives the mountains their name.

The White Tank cannot be seen today as it was destroyed sometime between 1898 and 1902. Heavy rains caused the collapse of the cliff above the tank, filling it in. The exact location of the tank is now a mystery.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers approximately 25 miles of excellent shared-use trails, ranging in length from 0.9 mile to 7.9 miles, and difficulty from easy to strenuous. Overnight backpacking, with a permit, is allowed in established backcountry campsites. Day hikes can provide some breathtaking views of the mountains and panoramas of the Valley below. Horseback and mountain bike riders are welcome, although caution is stressed as some of the trails may be extremely difficult.

One of the most popular trails in the park is the Waterfall Canyon Trail which leads to a dark pool in a narrow box canyon. Right after a good rain there really is a waterfall. This trail also houses the “Petroglyph Plaza,” some of the finest petroglyphs in the park.

In addition, there are 2.5 miles of pedestrian-only trails. These include two short trails that are hard-surfaced and barrier free. Waterfall Trail is barrier-free for 1/2 of a mile. The handicap accessible portion now ends about 1/10 of a mile past Petroglyph Plaza. The short loop of Black Rock Trail, which is about 1/2 mile long, begins at Ramada 4.

All trails are multi-use unless otherwise designated. All trail users are encouraged to practice proper trail etiquette.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Tank Mountain Regional Park offers 40 individual sites for tent or RV camping. All sites are developed with a water hook-up and 30/50-amp electrical service, a picnic table, a barbecue grill, a fire ring, and nearby dump station. Most sites are relatively level and will accommodate big rigs. All restrooms offer flush toilets and showers. All sites in the campground may be reserved online.

Details

White Tank Mountain Regional Park

Address: 20304 W. White Tank Mountain Road, PO Box 91, Waddell, AZ 85355

Directions: When traveling south on Loop 303, exit at Peoria Avenue, west (right) to Cotton Lane, south (left) to Olive Avenue, and west (right) 4 miles to the park gate; when traveling north on Loop 303, exit at Northern Ave., west (left) to Cotton Lane, north (right) to Olive Avenue, and west (left) 4 miles to the park gate (Note: There is NO off ramp on Loop 303 for Olive Avenue)

Phone: (623) 935-2505

Website: www.maricopacountyparks.org

Entry Fee: $6/vehicle

Camping Fee: $30

Camping Reservation Fee: $8

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

On the northern side of the Coachella Valley, nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio, and other desert cities.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas fault, and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Enjoy palm groves, picnic areas, a diverse trail system, and the rustic visitor center, the Palm House. Inside the historic building are trail maps as well as unique displays of the natural and historic features of the area.

The palm encountered in the oases within the Preserve is the California fan palm, or Washingtonia filifera. It is the only indigenous palm in California. The Washingtonia filifera has a very thick trunk and grows slowly to about 45 feet. Dead leaves hang vertically and form what is called a skirt around the trunk providing a place for various critters to live. Inflorescences, or fruit stalks, extend beyond the leaves and bear masses of tiny white to cream colored flowers.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the fall months, large clusters of small hard fruit hang from the tree. The palms may live 150 to 200 years.

No one knew just how significant a 6-inch lizard would be to conservation in Coachella Valley.

In 1980 a lizard small enough to fit in the palm of your hand brought the $19 billion Coachella Valley construction boom to a screeching halt.

When the lizard was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all development was jeopardized because it might illegally destroy habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.

A six-year conflict ensued as environmentalists battled developers over the fragile desert habitat. Finally, the Nature Conservancy was called in to resolve the bitter stalemate, and the result was a remarkable model of cooperation through which endangered species and economic development could co-exist.

The Conservancy proposed creating a nearly 14,000-acre preserve that would provide permanent protection for the little reptile and other desert species, while allowing developers to build elsewhere in the valley. It was a great experiment in cooperation that produced astonishing results. The creation of the Coachella Valley Preserve proved that through consensus, economic development, and species protection can indeed be compatible.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From easy to moderately difficult, from flat terrain to steep grades, hikes of all varieties are available. There are also several designated equestrian trails, but there are no bike or dog-friendly trails.

One hike that is a sure bet for all levels, is through varying desert terrain to the McCallum Grove, about a mile from the Palm House visitor’s center. There are about a dozen isolated palm groves within the preserve, the largest being McCallum Grove.

There’s more water here than anywhere else in the preserve and the overflow allows a large and diverse community to thrive, including tiny freshwater crayfish called red swamp crayfish, desert pupfish, and the occasional mallard duck making a brief stopover during its annual migration.

After leaving McCallum Grove keep hiking west on marked trails out to “moon country”. You will come to an overlook that provides you with great views of the entire area.
From there you can return to the visitor’s center, or continue via the 4.2-mile Moon Country Trail Loop, or the more advanced Moon Country Canyon Extension, which adds an additional 1.63 miles roundtrip.

Other delightful trails include Pushawalla Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Hidden Palms, which are all somewhat more strenuous hikes.

Coachella Valley Preserve is a great way to spend a day with its fantastic hiking trails, and beautiful vistas, but best of all it’s free and also easy to find. No matter how you choose to spend your time at Coachella Valley Preserve, you won’t be disappointed.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Palm Springs take Interstate 10 East to the Ramon Road exit. Turn left and follow Ramon Road and make a left turn on Thousand Palms Road. The entrance to the visitors center is located about two miles on the left.

Worth Pondering…

Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.
—Edward Abbey

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Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis

Located along Sabino Creek 12 miles from downtown Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a popular destination for exploring the Sonoran Desert.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A paved road runs 3.8 miles into the canyon, crossing nine stone bridges over Sabino Creek. It begins at an altitude of 2,800 feet and rises to 3,300 feet at its end.

Sabino Canyon’s history is as diverse as it is fascinating. The Santa Catalina mountain range began its formation over 12 million years ago, 7 million years before the earliest known human walked the face of the earth. In around 5 million B.C., the mountains ceased formation around the Tucson area, setting the stage for future ecological action. Plant life first appeared between 6,000 and 8,000 years ago, and some of the earliest predominant human occupants of Sabino Canyon were the Hohokam people.

Soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year to the Sabino Canyon Recreation Area. The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible.

Sabino Canyon Tours offers two tram routes that provide access to Sabino and Bear Canyons. Along both routes riders are free to get off at any of the stops along the way.

Sabino Canyon tram is a narrated, educational 45-minute, 3.8 mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. The trams have nine stops along the tour with several restroom facilities and picnic grounds located near Sabino Creek. The tram turns around at Stop #9 and heads back down to the Visitor’s Center, at which point riders may remain on board and hike back down. Trams arrive on average every 30 minutes.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tram drivers narrate the ride to the top of the trail, re­lating legends and pointing out features of interest: teddy bear cholla, a sandy beach that makes a good picnic spot, a formation atop a mountain that looks like Snoopy lying on his back.

A variety of trails are available along the way for hiking that range from easy to challenging. The main road is mostly flat and paved and crosses Sabino Creek over nine stone bridges.

Winding through the canyon, visitors who follow the road have views of the creek, the riparian vegetation, magnificent Saguaros on the canyon walls, and towering rock formations. Picnic areas are scattered along the road, as are trailheads leading to other sections of the National Forest or paralleling the road.

The only motorized vehicles allowed on the road that leads through the canyon are the Sabino Canyon trams and Park Service vehicles. Ramadas at the entrance give canyon visitors a place to sit and watch the wildlife while waiting for the shuttle.

Bear Canyon tram is a non-narrated 2 mile ride that travels to the trailhead of Seven Falls. This tram ride has three stops along the way for hikers to select their choice of trails. Visitors may get off the tram at any of the stops and re-board later. Trams arrive on average every hour.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If riding the shuttle does not stir your sense of adventure, there are miles of hiking trails that wander throughout the area and lead deeper into the Santa Catalina backcountry.

For those who just want a refresher course on its wonders, the nature trail at the visitor center offers wildlife and trailside interpretive information.

Details

Sabino Canyon Recreation Area

Sabino Canyon is a popular spot for hiking. Trams run on the main, easily navigated Sabino Canyon Trail, with nine stops along the way, and on the Bear Canyon Trail, with three stops. During the 20-minute trip to the end of Sabino Canyon Road, shuttle drivers recount the history of the canyon and point out sights along the way.

Bear Canyon tram rides, which are not narrated, travel two miles to the trailhead of Seven Falls, from which it’s about a four-hour hike to the falls.

Your ticket enables you to get on or off at any of the stops—but not in between them.

Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Address: 5900 N. Sabino Canyon Rd. Tucson, AZ 85750

Directions: From Tanque Verde Road in Tucson turn north on Sabino Canyon Road 4 miles to the Sabino Canyon

Information/Tour Schedules: (520) 749-2861

Visitors Center: (520) 749-8700

Sabino Canyon Tram Fees: $8; children ages 3-12, $4

Bear  Canyon Tram Fees: $3; children ages 3-12, $1

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

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China Ranch Date Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details

China Ranch Date Farm

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

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

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

Phone: (760) 852-4415

Website: www.chinaranch.com

Worth Pondering…

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

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Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?

The US National Park Service is investigating a woman who recently traveled from New York to a series of Western states in order to paint unsightly drivel all over a number of America’s most pristine and most iconic national parks.

Overlooking Crater Lake National Park
Overlooking Crater Lake National Park

National Park Service investigators have confirmed that images were painted on rocks or boulders in Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah; Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park, all in California; Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument in Colorado; and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Casey Nocket, 21, is responsible for this wave of vandalism and the primary suspect in the criminal investigation. She proudly documented her trail of painting vandalism and defended her brazen defacements on her “Creepytings” Instagram page—which should make the eventual raft of felony vandalism charges easier.

Nocket also has a “Creepytings” Tumblr page where she also defended her shockingly bad national park doodles.

“It’s art, not vandalism,” she insisted. “I am an artist.”

She also compared her renderings to the work of Banksy, the English graffiti artist and political activist. And she claimed the mantle of feminism.

“Most people are respectful but graffiti is a growing problem. There’s a difference between art and vandalism,” said Aly Baltrus, spokeswoman for Zion National Park.

Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?
Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?

In general, graffiti in national parks is a growing problem, said David Nimkin, senior regional director for the National Park Conservation Association, southwest region.

“I have a hard time believing that she (Nocket) didn’t realize what she was doing was wrong. I think she clearly had a different agenda,” Nimkin said.

Nocket admits to knowing that what she is doing is wrong in a Facebook message saying that she knows she is a bad person.

Investigators continue to collect evidence, conduct interviews, and are consulting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about potential charges. They ask the public to exercise patience and allow due process to take its course as the investigation moves forward, according to a statement written by National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey G. Olson.

Prior to the Park Service’s investigation, some of Nocket’s paintings were removed. The image found in Rocky Mountain National Park was reported to the park and then removed late September before similar images were found in the other national parks, according to the statement. Ice and snow have covered the image at Crater Lake National Park, and it may not be accessible for assessment and clean up until next summer. An image in Yosemite National Park was removed by an unknown person or persons.

While authorities could not discuss details of this case, they did stress the seriousness of vandalism in a released statement:

Death Valley vandalism
Death Valley vandalism

“There are forums for artistic expression in national parks because national parks inspire artistic creativity. These images are outside that forum and outside the law.”

One of the reasons national parks have been designated is to preserve and protect the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage for both current and future generations. Vandalism is a violation of the law and it also damages and sometimes destroys irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans.

“It’s not like we have a slush fund to go and clean up vandalism,” a national parks said.

“Dealing with this means we’re not doing something else.”

Creepytings Nocket must  be held accountable and punished to a reasonable extent of the law―and banned from all US National Park Service sites. She needs to be fined and do some community service and she definitely needs to realize the consequences of her actions.

But more importantly, I hope that everyone who’s as outraged about this senseless act of vandalism as I am can take that rage and turn it into something positive. Find a park you care about and volunteer some time to help clean up or maintain trails. Donate to a conservancy.

Or better yet, find someone who doesn’t understand what the big deal is about this and take them outside, show them what a little time in the wilderness can do, and let them find out for themselves.

Worth Pondering…

Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.

―John Wayne

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Venomous Snakes Bite 2 Campers + Safety Tips

A recent story in Vogel Talks RVing identified the various species of venomous snakes found in the United States and Canada and the appropriate first aide treatment.

The #1 key to identifying the venomous vipers among us, and being able to tell them apart from native harmless snakes, is by the shape of the head.  Moccasins, Copperheads and Rattlesnakes all have large venom glands in their cheeks which makes their heads distinctively wider than their necks. (Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)
The #1 key to identifying the venomous vipers among us, and being able to tell them apart from native harmless snakes, is by the shape of the head. Moccasins, Copperheads and Rattlesnakes all have large venom glands in their cheeks which makes their heads distinctively wider than their necks. (Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)

Since posting this article two campers were bitten by a venomous snake in separate incidents.

Idaho: Rattlesnake Bite

An Idaho woman is recovering after a rattlesnake bite sent her to the hospital. It happened near the Willowcreek campground east of Boise, where Olga Cortez of Caldwell was staying with her family. She had planned to spend the weekend camping, but instead, she spent three days in the ICU at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Meridian, reports KTVB-TV.

Cortez says she was walking on a trail with her husband when the snake struck. The rattlesnake had sunk its teeth into her foot as she walked near her campsite along the Boise River.

“I felt something bit me but I didn’t see it, and then all of a sudden I looked down, and there it was,” said Cortez.

“I started getting really hot, and numbness, and a really burning sensation and numbness, and by the time we got to the campsite I couldn’t walk,” said Cortez.

Venomous vipers have wider heads than their harmless relatives, a characteristic which can be easily recognized. Compare width of head of this harmless gopherxnake with earlier image of a rattlesnake. (Courtesy:  swfieldherp.com)
Venomous vipers have wider heads than their harmless relatives, a characteristic which can be easily recognized. Compare width of head of this harmless gopherxnake with earlier image of a rattlesnake. (Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)

It took Cortez an hour and a half to get to the hospital, then she spent three days in the ICU with a swollen foot and leg. She’s grateful only one of the snake’s fangs hit her foot. The other went through her sandal.

According to wildlife expert Frank Lundberg, a gopher snake looks similar to a rattlesnake, but is harmless. He says the best thing to do if you see any of Idaho’s 12 species is to remember that they don’t want to be bothered. He suggests wearing heavy shoes and keeping your dog close by if you’re hiking this time of year.

Tennessee: Venomous Snake Bite

A 53-year-old man was bitten by a venomous snake while camping at the Cades Cove Campground. The victim, identified as John Spencer was in a restroom on the group site of the campground when he was bitten by the snake.

It was not known what breed of snake bit Spencer, but it could be determined by the bite that it was poisonous, Great Smoky Mountains National Park Spokeswoman Molly Schroer told The Daily Times.

Park rangers took Spencer in the care of the Townsend Fire Department emergency personnel via Rural/Metro Ambulance Service. Townsend Fire set up a landing zone on Highway 73 near Sundown Resort, where Spencer was later flown via LifeStar to the University of Tennessee Medical Center.

In the case of the Rattlesnake of course, the distinctive rattle on the end of the tail is a sure give-away to the identification of the serpent, but given the fact that young Rattlesnakes do not have a functioning rattle, or a Rattlesnake may lose a rattle to a predator or to an accident, head shape recognition becomes your best indicator.(Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)
In the case of the Rattlesnake of course, the distinctive rattle on the end of the tail is a sure give-away to the identification of the serpent, but given the fact that young Rattlesnakes do not have a functioning rattle, or a Rattlesnake may lose a rattle to a predator or to an accident, head shape recognition becomes your best indicator.(Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)

He was reported to be in fair condition, according to the nursing supervisor’s office.

What To Do If You Encounter a Venomous Snake

If you spend much time out of doors in parks and other natural areas, chances are that someday you will encounter a potentially dangerous snake. The most important thing for you to do in such an encounter is to stay calm and not panic. The snake WILL NOT ATTACK YOU.

IF YOU SEE THE SNAKE – Stay calm, move slowly away from it, and keep your distance. The snake will not attack you.

IF YOU HEAR THE SNAKE BEFORE YOU SEE IT – DO NOT MOVE until you see the snake or know exactly where it is. Move slowly away from it, and keep your distance. Again, the snake will not attack you.

What To Do In The Event of a Venomous Snake Bite

There are two types of Coral Snakes in the U.S., the Eastern Coral Snake, and the Western Coral Snake. Of the two types, the Eastern Coral Snake is the largest and has the largest distribution. It is found in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. (Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)
There are two types of Coral Snakes in the U.S., the Eastern Coral Snake, and the Western Coral Snake. Of the two types, the Eastern Coral Snake is the largest and has the largest distribution. It is found in North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas. (Courtesy: swfieldherp.com)

Call 911 for medical assistance, or get the victim to a hospital.

Remove rings, watches, and anything else in the area of the wound that may restrict blood flow.

Slow down the swelling of the bitten limb by wrapping it with an elastic bandage (Ace bandage) tight enough to create some constriction, but not tight enough to restrict blood flow.

Use a splint to restrict movement of the bitten limb.

Prepare a cold washcloth or an icepack to apply to the victims forehead to help reduce nausea.

The absolute best course of action is to get the victim to a hospital or get medical assistance to the victim ASAP.

A working cell phone and a GPS make up the best “snake bite kit” you can carry with you.

DO NOT apply a tourniquet or attempt to restrict blood flow.

DO NOT expose the area of the bite to cold or apply an ice pack to it.

DO NOT drink caffeinated beverages or alcohol as a painkiller, or take aspirin or ibuprofen.

The only treatment for an envenomation is the use of antivenin which must be administered by medical professionals.

Note: The above information is courtesy Southwestern Field Herping Associates.

Worth Pondering…

A rattlesnake loose in the living room tends to end all discussion of animal rights.

—Lance Morrow

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Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints

Get more out of life—take a hike!

Hiking the trails at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that we’re well into spring and getting ready for summer, it’s prime time to get out on the trail and enjoy the colorful wildflowers, wandering wildlife, and breathtaking views of the natural world.

One of the primary reasons hiking is such a transcendent experience is it offers the opportunity to get away from civilization to enjoy the beauty of the natural world.

June is one of the best months of the year for hiking because the wildflowers also bring a lot of other cool stuff such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

With so many exciting subjects to observe and photograph, it’s easy to forget that this is also one of the most fragile times of year for the natural world. So, it’s important to leave no trace when you’re out on the trail.

Or in the words of Chief Seattle, “take only memories, leave only footprints”.

Leaving no trace means you leave the wilderness as you found it or maybe a little better by picking up any trash you find. Whatever you bring in, you should also bring out. Pack out your trash and pick up any litter left by others. If everyone carried out additional debris left by others, litter problems would be quickly eliminated.

Hiking the trails at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It means the only things you take away are memories and photographs, and the only thing you leave behind is footprints. But, you should also be careful just where you leave those footprints.

Avoid stepping on plants (especially wildflowers), and stay on established trails as much as possible.

Read the signs posted at the trailhead. At some of the more popular trailheads, there’s often a large sign with a trail map, posted regulations, safety reminders, and sometimes special considerations for leaving no trace. Make sure you read and follow any rules specific to that trail.

Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

Learn the local ecology before visiting a new location. This will help you understand what’s endangered, what’s invasive, and how careful you need to be while you’re hiking through that area.

Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

Don’t feed the wildlife. NEVER feed wild animals. It not only ruins the wildness of the land, but it also makes the animal depending on human food.

To ensure you leave no trace, following are guidelines to follow when out on a trail.

Leave-No-Trace Principles

Plan ahead and be prepared.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

Dispose of waste properly and pack out your trash.

Leave what you find.

Respect wildlife and minimize impact.

Be careful where you step.

Be considerate of others.

Hiking the trails at Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving a wilderness area just as you found it will also ensure that the next visitor enjoys that same wildness you did.

Above all, be aware that you are not alone in the woods. Other wilderness hikers and campers also enjoy the solitude. Make as little noise as possible while hiking.

Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Worth Pondering…

May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.

—Edward Abbey

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National Trails Day: Let’s Take a Hike

In 1993 the American Hiking Society sponsored the first National Trails Day hike.

Hiking around Swan Lake in Sumter, South Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking around Swan Lake Iris Gardens in Sumter, South Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Over the next 20 years the event has grew to more than 2,000 events ranging from guided hikes to paddling excursions and similar outdoor adventures.

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day is the country’s largest celebration of trails.

This year’s 22nd annual celebration will be held on Saturday, June 7. Mark your calendar to prepare for this year’s big celebration.

National Trails Day events include hikes, biking and horseback rides, paddling trips, birdwatching, geocaching, gear demonstrations, stewardship projects, and more.

Many national parks, state parks, county parks, USDA Forest Service, National Wildlife Refuges, BLM, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, US Fish & Wildlife Service, outdoor learning centers, land trusts, and state trails associations have scheduled special events to mark this special day.

To find an event near you, click here.

In a single day in 2013 on National Trails Day…

2,255 activities took place in all 50 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico, engaging more than 134,000 people on trails.

24,300 trail volunteers participated in 528 projects and maintained 2,084 miles of trail, resulting in $2.4 million of sweat equity.

69,000 hikers attended 1,132 hikes and covered a cumulative distance of 313,000 miles.

11,000 bikers attended 140 bike rides and covered a cumulative distance of 172,000 miles.

Hiking the trails at Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Blanco State Park in the Texas Hill Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

6,400 paddlers attended 57 paddling trips and covered a cumulative distance of 38,000 miles.

1,400 equestrians attended 35 horseback riding trips and covered a cumulative distance of 16,000 miles.

Why Celebrate Trails

America’s 200,000 miles of trails allow us access to the natural world for recreation, education, exploration, solitude, inspiration, and much more. Trails give us a means to support good physical and mental health; they provide us with a chance to breathe fresh air, get our hearts pumping, and escape from our stresses. All it takes is a willingness to use them.

National Trails Day also aims to highlight the important work thousands of volunteers do each year to take care of America’s trails. Trails do not just magically appear for our enjoyment; their construction and maintenance takes hours of dedicated planning and labor. So give thanks to your local volunteers and consider taking a day to give back to your favorite trail.

National Trails Day evolved during the late ‘80s and ‘90s from a popular ethos among trail advocates, outdoor industry leaders, and political bodies who wanted to unlock the vast potential in America’s National Trails System, transforming it from a collection of local paths into a true network of interconnected trails and vested trail organizations. This collective mindset hatched the idea of a singular day where the greater trail community could band together behind the National Trails Day moniker to show their pride and dedication to the National Trails System.

Details

National Trails Day

American Hiking Society’s National Trails Day is a nationally recognized trail awareness program that occurs annually on the first Saturday of June and inspires the public to discover, learn about, and celebrate trails while participating in outdoor activities, clinics, and trail stewardship projects.

Hiking the trails at Guadalupe River State Park, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Guadalupe River State Park, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Individuals, clubs, and organizations from around the country host National Trails Day events to share their love of trails with friends, family, and their communities.

National Trails Day introduces thousands of Americans to a wide array of trail activities: hiking, biking, paddling, horseback riding, trail running, and bird watching and more.

National Trails Day is a registered trademark of American Hiking Society.

To find an event near you, click here.

American Hiking Society

As the national voice for America’s hikers, American Hiking Society promotes and protects foot trails, their surrounding natural areas, and the hiking experience.

Address: 1422 Fenwick Lane, Silver Spring, MD 20910

Phone: (301) 565-6704

Website: www.americanhiking.org

Worth Pondering…

In every walk with nature, one receives more than he seeks.

—John Muir

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