Historic Triangle: 400 Years & Counting

Traveling through America the past is often hidden, masked by strip malls and suburban sprawl. However, restoration and reconstruction projects are occurring in cities and towns across the nation to preserve our past for future generations.

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestowne Settlement. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestowne Settlement. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Historic Triangle is formed by Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield, three cities that were instrumental in America’s development, freedom, and democracy.

On May 14, 1607, the ships sent by the Virginia Company of London, the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discovery, landed at Jamestown Island with 104 passengers—all men and boys. They began building America’s first permanent English settlement, predating Plymouth in Massachusetts by 13 years.

Decimated by disease, famine, and Indian attacks, less than half of them survived the first year. However, with more settlers arriving every year and the establishment of their first cash crop, the tiny settlement began to flourish.

Through living history, a film, and gallery exhibits, the aspirations of these pioneers and the hardships they faced are depicted at Jamestowne Settlement. Located about a mile from the original site, Jamestowne Settlement is 10 minutes from Williamsburg, Jamestown’s successor as capital of the Virginia colony.

Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum, a colonial American city on the verge of war. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Colonial Williamsburg is a living history museum, a colonial American city on the verge of war. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Your visit to Jamestown Settlement begins with an introductory film that presents an overview of Jamestown’s origins in England and the early years of the colony. Exhibition galleries chronicle the nation’s pre-17th-century beginnings in Virginia in the context of its Powhatan Indian, English, and western central African cultures.

Leaving the indoor exhibits, visitors arrive at the Powhatan Indian village where costumed interpreters discuss and demonstrate the Powhatan way of life. From the Indian village, a path leads to a pier where the Susan Constant, Godspeed, and Discover are docked. Visitors can talk with costumed interpreters about the four-and-a-half month voyage from England.

Triangular Fort James is a recreation of the one constructed by the Jamestown colonist on their arrival in 1607. Inside the wooden stockade are wattle-and-daub structures and thatched roofs representing Jamestown’s earliest buildings including dwellings, a church, a storehouse, and an armory.

More settlements followed and it was in Williamsburg that the seeds of revolution were sown by the intellectual and independent thinkers who flocked to the city.

Explore Yorktown Battlefiedl, the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Explore Yorktown Battlefiedl, the site of the last major battle of the Revolutionary War. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Become a resident of a city on the verge of war—or in the midst of it—as you explore the government buildings, shops, homes, gardens, and taverns of Williamsburg. Encounter townspeople on their own soil as they live through a time of change and uncertainty. Buzzing with political discussion and dispute, the city comes alive. Enter the residents’ homes or learn about their workplaces; see where they sleep, where they eat, and where they socialize.

Many of the buildings, like the Courthouse, Magazine, and Wetherburn’s Tavern, have stood in Williamsburg since the 18th century. Others, like the Capitol and Governor’s Palace, have been reconstructed on their original foundations. Some of the buildings are used as private residences and offices. Flags out front indicate areas open to guests.

The port city of Yorktown forms the third point of the Historic Triangle, famous for its decisive battle and end to the Revolutionary War.

As you stroll through historic Yorktown, let the past envelop you as you immerse yourself in 300 years of history. Here you can experience many 18th century homes, visit the location where the surrender terms for the Battle of Yorktown were negotiated or the home of the Virginia militia with its walls still bearing the scars of cannonballs fired upon the village in 1781. Explore the battlefields, fortifications, and historic buildings where American independence was won.

The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects Jamestowne Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The 23-mile Colonial Parkway connects Jamestowne Settlement, Colonial Williamsburg, and Yorktown Battlefield. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Americans won their independence here during the last major battle of the American Revolutionary War on October 19, 1781, when British troops surrendered to General George Washington and his French allies.

Today, Yorktown Battlefield is joined by the scenic Colonial Parkway to Colonial Williamsburg and Historic Jamestown and is located just 12 miles east of Williamsburg.

Worth Pondering…

On the whole, I find nothing anywhere else…which Virginia need envy.

—Thomas Jefferson

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4 Great National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. From these Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.

With 8 different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Arches and discover a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.

Devils Garden Campground is located eighteen miles from the park entrance and is open year-round. There are 50 individual camping sites. Facilities include potable water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets. There are no showers or RV dump/fill stations.

All sites are usually reserved in advance during the busy season (March through October). As an alternative numerous private campgrounds are available in nearby Moab.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia may be the nation’s most compelling hikers’ park despite the fact that most hikes begin by either an ascent or descent.

The two-lane Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and it is important for campers who want to begin their explorations of Shenandoah by simply driving. Along the road dozens of pullovers provide views of such spectacles as Old Rag Mountain which contains some of the nation’s oldest rocks. All trails lead to attractions, such as the park’s 15-some waterfalls including 93-foot-high Overall Run Falls, its highest. Or it might lead to Hawksbill, the park’s highest mountain at 4,051 feet.

There are four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park; three campgrounds will accommodate large RVs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain all have pull-through and deep back-in sites which can handle an RV with a tow vehicle. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Shenandoah but potable water and dump stations are available with the exception of Lewis Mountain.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

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

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

Cottonwood Campground is located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. During our visit we had no difficulty in finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

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Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean.

The Texas White House is open for public tours including the President's Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons' bedroom suites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Texas White House is open for public tours including the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park Service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where LBJ learned to read. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where LBJ learned to read. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Hanger on LBJ Ranh with Air Force One. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hanger on LBJ Ranh with Air Force One. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

This is MY ranch and I do as I please! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This is MY ranch and I do as I please! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

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4 Of The Best States for RV Travel & Camping

There are many great camping and outdoors destinations across the US―camping is abundant at national parks, state parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas.

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each state has a unique appeal, but four stand out from the rest as great RV travel and camping destinations: New Mexico, Utah, South Carolina, and Georgia.

New Mexico

Artists Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe once made the landscapes of New Mexico famous, but New Mexico isn’t just for artists―there are great camping, recreational, and sightseeing opportunities.

New Mexico is home to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, numerous state parks, and historical parks. You can drive the historic US Route 66 or one of 25 scenic byways. In New Mexico, camping road trip possibilities are aplenty.

The camping possibilities are endless and quiet. The locals love their solitude and there is plenty of it. Famous for its beautiful skies, desserts, mountains, and grasslands, New Mexico offers an abundance of outdoor activities. You can hike, bike, ride ATVs and horses, hunt, fish, climb, and cave; in New Mexico, there is an outdoor adventure for everybody.

Utah

Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its diverse landscapes, geology, and recreational opportunities, Utah is an intriguing destination. Home to five national parks and seven national monuments, Utah is a paradise for RVers who love the outdoors.  Elevations rise and fall dramatically in the shape of mountains, buttes, and plateaus, the highest reaching over 13,000 feet.

Camp in the comfort of your RV and explore the awe-inspiring geology of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef national parks. A geological wonderland, Arches is one of Utah’s most accessible national parks. Towering spires, fins, petrified dunes, massive sandstone buttes, and balanced rocks complement the arches.

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. A journey like no other, this exceptional 124-mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys.

South Carolina

Reedy River and Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Reedy River and Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Lowcountry to lakes and blackwater rivers to Upcountry whitewater and waterfalls, you’ll find an endless selection of places to RV in South Carolina. From the foothills of The Upcountry to the fun activities of Myrtle Beach and The Grand Strand, unlimited camping opportunities await the RV traveler.

A land of rugged forested mountains, scenic lakes, rushing whitewater rapids, and cascading waterfalls, the Upcountry is a favorite outdoor adventure and family vacation destination.

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing.

With fun family beaches, over 100 championship golf courses, outlet malls, specialty shops, live musical theatre, nightclubs, and a variety of family attractions, Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand is a the ultimate RV destination.

Georgia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia offers RVers unlimited travel options from stunning mountain vistas to rushing rivers and waterfalls, charming towns to bustling cities and unspoiled Atlantic beaches. A variety of RV adventures can be experienced throughout the state.

Stunning vistas amid Northeast Georgia’s mountains make this region a natural paradise for RVers. Outdoor activities include boating, fishing, and hiking. At an elevation of 4,784 feet Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest mountain. The re-creation of a Bavarian village complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers, Helen offers shopping, restaurants, mountain scenery, Oktoberfest, Alpenfest, and other seasonal festivals.

The Coast offers miles of shoreline, windswept dunes, and historic ports and towns. Savannah’s stunning architecture, 21 historic squares, and Low Country landscape make the city a top RV destination. Nestled along the coast are the city of Brunswick and four barrier islands: St. Simons, Sea, Little St. Simons, and Jekyll. A ferry ride from St. Mary’s transports travelers to Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Worth Pondering…

What a life. Today, it’s New Mexico, yesterday it was Utah, and shortly before that we were in South Carolina. Soon it will be Georgia.

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Why Visitor Centers Are A Must Stop

Make your road trip and travel adventure better by stopping at state welcome centers and regional and city visitor information centers.

Kentucky Welcome Center (I-65, Exit 114) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Kentucky Welcome Center (I-65, Exit 114) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most states offer RV friendly Welcome Centers along Interstates and other major highways.

Friendly, informative staff and dedicated volunteers provide area-specific brochures, detailed maps, and face-to-face travel consultation and advice, free of charge.

The Visitor Center is your one stop shop. You’ll find a variety of tourism/travel related services including a vast assortment of local and statewide publications, maps, and other travel information promoting all that the state has to offer.

Highway Welcome Centers also provide clean, well maintained restroom facilities, free Wi-Fi, vending machines, and designated parking areas for RVs.

In addition to free information, visitor centers often offer a reservation service and discounts on selected products such as attractions admission, adventure products, and sightseeing tours.

Texas Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Need a map? Want suggestions for dinner? Looking for a farmers market or swap meet in the area? Wondering about roads to take and roads to avoid, roadside attractions, hiking trails, nature centers, museums, scenic roads, or weather related information? Need help planning activities or booking a tour?

Also begin your exploration of national parks and state parks at the visitor center. Here you can pick up a park map or newspaper, view a film, tour the museum and displays, have your questions answered by a ranger, and purchase books and guides to the park.

Many parks offer guided tours and ranger talks. For the children there is a fun and educational Junior Ranger Program.
Regional and city visitors centers help identify interesting and worthwhile activities with which to fill your visit to the area, nature trails, museums, hidden parks, quiet little exhibits, and interesting free things to do.

Even in towns where you might expect to find a fair amount of interesting history or things to visit, a stop at a visitor’s center can uncover a lot of things you never expected to find.

Visitor centers are great for directions, but also getting information from locals.

Fort Stockton, Texas Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fort Stockton, Texas Visitor Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor’s centers can also be a great resource for people who want to discover more about their own community. First, check the visitor’s center in the city or town where you live, as well as the center in nearby communities. Unless you’re incredibly well-grounded in your home community, you’ll be amazed at the gems you uncover—parks, walking trails, historical exhibits, cultural attractions, museums, nature centers, and more.

During our many years of RV travel we normally stop at state welcome centers as we enter the state. While each is unique in its offerings and services, several stand out as exemplary.

Texas Travel Information Center

Texas Travel Information Centers create a positive first impression of the Lone Star State. Their 12 Travel Information Centers are staffed by professional travel counselors who welcome visitors to Texas, help with routings, and provide information on points of interest, events, and road conditions.

Florida Welcome Center 

Florida Welcome Centers provide incoming visitors with a variety of information on travel, highways, sports, climate, accommodations, cities, outdoor recreation, and attractions.

Alabama Gulf Coast Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Alabama Gulf Coast Welcome Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In tribute to the citrus industry which historically has been a major part of Florida’s economy, every visitor is offered a free cup of Florida citrus juice (orange or grapefruit).

Kentucky Welcome Center 

Kentucky Welcome Centers are staffed by friendly travel consultants who offer Kentucky maps and brochures, answer questions, and suggest itineraries to enjoy during your stay. Eight welcome centers are located on the four major interstates in Kentucky.

South Carolina Welcome Center

No matter where you’re headed in the Palmetto State, you’ll find everything you need to know and more at one of nine South Carolina Welcome Centers. Travel counselors are available to assist visitors with tourist and attraction information, free reservation services, maps, trail guides, discount coupons, and much more.

Do you ever stop in visitor centers while road tripping? If not, you’re missing a great travel resource.

Worth Pondering…

We often live for those unusual landmarks and off-the-beaten-path places that make RVing so extraordinary. And we all know that sometimes getting there is all the fun.

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5 Obscure National Parks

The National Park Service, which is preparing to celebrate its centennial next year, set a record for guests in 2014 with 292.8 million visits.

Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The previous record was set in 1999, when slightly more than 287.1 million people visited the parks. Visits were up 7 percent over 2013, when parks closed during a 16-day government shutdown.

The park service also released the list of most- and least-visited park sites in 2014. There were no real surprises on the most-visited list. The top five were the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Lincoln Memorial, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

But the list of least-visited park sites offered a few surprises.

Places such as the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska are understandable because of their remoteness.

But a few seem as if they should attract more visitors.

Nicodemus National Historic Site in Kansas is the oldest and only remaining black settlement in the American West. Founded by freed blacks from Kentucky in 1877, the town provided a refuge for African-Americans fleeing the post-Reconstruction South. The visitors center is in the 1939 Township Hall. Visitors can also take a walking tour to see five historic buildings. The site had 3,374 visitors last year.

The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site near Danville, California, includes the home of America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright. Visitors can take a free guided tour of the retreat that O’Neill dubbed Tao House and where he wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night and four other plays. But the site can be visited only via park service shuttle from Danville, which, perhaps, discourages some potential guests. The site had 3,202 visitors in 2014.

Below are five of our favorite obscure, off the beaten path national parks, where crowds and jam-packed roads and parking areas are not an issue even during the peak summer travel season. Each is special in its own way.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

2014 visitor count: 48,105

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is the best preserved iron plantation in North America.

Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smoke houses, blacksmith shop, office store, charcoal house, and a schoolhouse.

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

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

2014 visitor count: 26,808

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. The monument is noted for its solitude, clear skies and undeveloped, natural character.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

2014 visitor count: 44,721

In about 1110, a wandering band of Anasazi, a skilled farming people looking for a new home selected a high ridge along the west bank of the Animas River, opposite the present town of Aztec. They constructed a large dwelling of sculptured and fitted stones. Built over a four-year period, it was an E-shaped structure of about 400 rooms and 24 kivas that reached three stories high in places.

discover this authentic Navajo trading post
Take some time to discover this authentic Navajo trading post and original 160 acre homestead. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Arizona

2014 visitor count: 81,475

Very little has changed in more than a century at Hubbell Trading Post, the oldest continuously operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The post, its thick stone walls protecting visitors from the blazing summers and frigid winters of the high desert, continues to lure buyers and sellers alike.

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

2014 visitor count: 46,256

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

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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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Nothing Behind Me, Everything Ahead Of Me On The Great American Road Trip

One of the most quintessentially American experiences is the road trip.

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

What is it about road trips? The adventure? The unknown?

Maybe Jack Kerouac nailed it in his highway-focused tome On the Road when he wrote, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road”.

Undecided about your RV vacation? Here are four tips to make your road trip a fantastic experience.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that bisects the length of Shenandoah National Park winding along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains provides stunning views of the park’s mountains, valleys, and forests.

Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park and offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont area to the east. The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it.

Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

West Texas & Big Bend

Nothing beats the West Texas sky when the clouds roll in. Or when the sun sets. Or when the stars come out. Take a tour of Big Bend National Park, Marathon, Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis, and Balmorhea State Park.

Big Bend is a stunning mix of topography and ecosystems from the rugged Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert to the verdant banks of the Rio Grande River.

Lying some 36 miles to the north, the tiny community of Marathon is dotted with adorable old-timey eateries and other super Texas-y things. Check out the historic and beautiful Gage Hotel and Shirley Burn’t Biscuit Bakery, a Marathon institution providing fresh baked goods daily.

A remote, high-desert jewel nestled in the tall hills of West Texas, Alpine is a friendly, bustling community of a little over 5,000 people in a scenic valley that feels like nowhere else in the state.

Marfa has long been known for its art-world, off-beat cool factor, a mix of kitsch and bizarre; the Marfa Lights Festival kicks off on the Labor Day weekend (29th annual; September 4-6, 2015).

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis is pure Texas, as genuine as the working cattle ranches on the outskirts of town. The area’s lively military history is preserved at Fort Davis National Historic Site. An internationally known attraction, the McDonald Observatory is a 17 mile drive up a pretty canyon north of town.

Don’t miss Balmorhea an oasis in the desert north of Big Bend. The San Soloman Springs feed the swimming pool, keeping the water at a refreshing 74 degrees.

Red Rock Scenic Byway, Arizona

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.”

This highly acclaimed National Scenic Byway, begins shortly after you exit #298 off I-17 and has earned the distinction of being Arizona’s First All-American Road. Although the Scenic Byway is only 7.5 miles, it is long on spectacular sights.

Sedona’s Red Rocks are comprised of sediment layers deposited over many millions of years. The shale foundation is the remainder of ancient swamp lands. Other layers are the remainder of an ancient beachfront that deposited iron about 275 million years ago. This iron is what gives Sedona’s rocks their rich red color.

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala.

Located in southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina, the Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is about 40+ miles long. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

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Explore The Diversity Of New Mexico National Parks

From rugged mountaintops to grassy plains to lowland desert, New Mexico is indeed a true Land of Enchantment.

Aztec Ruins National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing six of the world’s seven life zones, the state’s landscapes exude diversity. Offering unlimited of unique opportunities, the Land of Enchantment attracts millions of visitors who seek out its scenic beauty and countless outdoor recreation activities.

Enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the national parks of the Land of Enchantment.

In an earlier post Vogel Talks RVing discussed the unlimited opportunities available for outdoor recreation and camping at New Mexico’s 35 state parks—24 having ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes.

Vogel Talks RVing also discussed New Mexico State Museums and Historical Sites worthy of a visit this summer.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, also consider coordinating visits to national parks in the area.

There are 19 national parks, national monuments, and national historical trails within the borders of New Mexico.

Aztec Ruins National Monument: Aztec ruins, built and occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan people over a 200-mile period, preserves an extended and planned community of a variety of structures. Included are several large, multi-story public buildings (“great houses”), many smaller residential pueblos, ceremonial kivas, remnants of linear “roads,” and earthen berms.

Bandelier National Monument: Thirteenth-century pueblo-style dwellings dot the rugged, canyon-slashed slopes and bottoms of the Pajarito Plateau. The Bandelier terrain is challenging, the scenery spectacular, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and lush, narrow canyons that alternate with sweeping mesa-top vistas.

El Malpais National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capulin Volcano National Monument: Capulin Volcano, a nearly perfectly-shaped cinder cone, stands more than 1,200 feet above the surrounding high plains of northeastern New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Established to preserve Carlsbad Caverns and numerous other caves within a Permian-age fossil reef, this park contains more than 100 known caves, including Lechuguilla Cave—the nation’s deepest limestone cave, at 1,567 feet, and the third longest. The Big Room is one of the world’s largest and most accessible underground chambers.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park: Chaco Culture preserves one of America’s most significant and fascinating cultural and historic areas. Chaco Canyon was a major center of Ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250. It was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area—unlike anything before or since.

El Malpais National Monument: Although el malpais means “the badlands,” this unique area holds many surprises. Lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges, complex lava tube systems, and other volcanic features dominate the mysterious El Malpais landscape.

El Morro National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National MonumentEl Morro’s Inscription rock in northwest New Mexico bears silent witness to more than 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded water hole, Anasazi, Spanish, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on this sandstone bluff. Inscription Rock is a soft sandstone monolith, rising 200 feet above the valley floor.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse into the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture, who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280 through the early 1300s. The monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest, and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

Petroglyph National Monument: Petroglyph protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved in rock by native people and early Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Monument: This site contains a large portion of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Here, glistening white dunes rise 60 feet high, and cover 275 square miles. Driven by strong southwest winds, sand slowly but relentlessly covers everything in its path. Surprisingly, many small animals and plants have adapted to this harsh environment.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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