West Texas & Big Bend: The Mysterious Lands With Majestic Vistas

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 National Park with the Rio Grande River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park with the Rio Grande River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park

Big Bend is Texas’ best-kept secret. The 800,000-acre park 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.

Marathon

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. Built in 1927 by acclaimed architect, Henry Trost, the legendary Gage Hotel offers authentic laid-back luxury and a first class dining experience. 12 Gage Restaurant is a sophisticated restaurant to satisfy even the most ardent foodies. The hotel’s famous White Buffalo Bar was selected by Texas Monthly Magazine as “Best Hotel Bar” in Texas.

Established in 1991 by Shirley Rooney, Shirley Burn’t Biscuit Bakery is a Marathon institution  providing fresh baked goods daily. Dine in, carry-out, or have any of the freshly baked goods, specialty fried pies, donuts, pastries, cookies, or cinnamon rolls shipped anywhere in the world.

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

Alpine

Alpine is a gem. A remote, high-desert jewel nestled in the tall hills of West Texas at an elevation of 4,475 feet. It is a friendly, bustling community of a little over 5,000 people in a scenic valley with surrounding mountain peaks over a mile high. You’ll immediately take note of the natural beauty surrounding the city.

For more than 70 years the Museum of the Big Bend has been collecting and exhibiting artifacts of the vast Big Bend region. Located on the campus of Sul Ross State University, this is a great starting off point for visitors to the region.

Don’t Miss the Alpine Mural Project, a salute to the town’s ranch heritage.

Fort Davis

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. This 19th-century frontier fort has one of the best preserved “Buffalo Soldier” outposts.

Big Bend Country sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend Country sunset © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Another internationally known attraction is McDonald Observatory, a 17 mile drive up a pretty canyon north of Fort Davis.

The Chihuahuan Desert Nature Center and Botanical Gardens is located on 507 acres, four miles south of Fort Davis on Highway 118. The Center is in a marvelous setting, with views of Mt. Livermore to the north and Blue Mountain to the southwest. The Center is an interesting blend of informative exhibits and programs, a greenhouse and botanical center, and picturesque hikes featuring spectacular views of the Davis Mountains.

Marfa

Marfa has long been known for its art-world, off-beat cool factor, a mix of kitsch and bizarre.

The 1956 filming of “Giant” starring Elizabeth Taylor, James Dean, and Rock Hudson first put Marfa on the cultural map. Then Donald Judd, the late minimalist artist, moved to this tiny town to escape New York’s art scene in the ’70s; instead he transported a little piece of it to West Texas. Today Marfa is home to the Judd and Chinati Foundations and Ballroom Marfa, a cultural arts center, as well as several galleries.

Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Balmorhea State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Cosmico, hippie-chic hotel and campground offers accommodations in vintage trailers, teepees, tents, and an authentic Mongolian yurt. The 18-acre property also includes a communal bathhouse with showers and a tub, hammocks, and an outdoor kitchen area.

Accounts of strange and unexplained mystery lights just outside of Marfa began during the 19th century and continue to this day. The Marfa Ghost Lights are sometimes red, sometimes blue, sometimes white, and appear randomly throughout the night. The official Marfa Lights Viewing Area is located 9 miles east of town on Highway 90, towards Alpine. Bring an open mind. The Marfa Lights Festival kicks off on the Labor Day weekend (29th annual; September 4-6, 2015).

Balmorhea

Balmorhea State Park is 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. The size (1.75 acres, 25 feet deep), temperature, and chlorine-free water make this a great scuba-diving spot.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wyman Meinzer

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Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other

Scenic wonders are visible in all directions from Scenic Byway 12, a 121-mile-long All American Road, as it winds and climbs.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon—Scenic Byway 12 is located in one of the most beautiful places on earth

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Highway 12 Scenic Byway. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Scenic Byway 12 takes visitors through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from US 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, and Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, there are nine communities along Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.

Winding south from Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 follows the edge of Boulder Mountain, reaching elevations of almost 9,400 feet, passing viewpoints that overlook Capitol Reef National Park. The highway then drops down into rugged Escalante Canyons, where it crosses deep chasms and climbs steep-sided plateaus. One section follows The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway, with cliffs falling away on either side.

The western approach is gentler—the roadway is not as sharp or narrow. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Boulder the road meanders southwest across the expansive Kaiparowits Plateau and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

About 20 miles south of Boulder, the Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway dirt road cuts south into the Escalante Canyons where you’ll find dozens of arches, ancient Native Indian rock art, and the mind-boggling rock formations of Devils Garden.

Back on Highway 12, about two miles northwest of the town of Escalante is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A series of short hiking trails leads to groupings of petrified logs, thousand-year-old petroglyphs, and dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic period. In the center of the park, the Wide Hollow Reservoir offers great canoeing and bass fishing.

Escalante is often called the “Heart of Scenic Byway 12” as it is nestled between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway.

Thirty miles west of Escalante, you’ll come to the small town of Cannonville and the Highway 400 turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The changing warm light on the park’s towering sandstone chimneys prompted the National Geographic Society to name the park Kodachrome in 1949.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last stop along Highway 12 is one of America’s iconic attractions, Bryce Canyon National Park. Established in 1924, the park is world famous for its towering eroding-sandstone pillars called hoodoos. The breathtaking three-mile-wide amphitheater is especially colorful at sunrise and sunset from Bryce and Inspiration points.

Worth Pondering…
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

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A Wonderland of Arches…And So Much More

Five miles east of Moab in southeastern Utah, the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches are preserved at Arches National Park.

The arches come in all sizes, ranging from an opening of only 3 feet to the 306-foot span of Landscape Arch, one of the largest in North America.

Arches National Park along the 18-mile Scenic Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park along the 18-mile Scenic Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches National Park is a red, arid desert, peppered with oddly eroded sandstone forms such as fins, pinnacles, spires, balanced rocks, and arches. The 73,000-acre region has over 2,000 of these “miracles of nature.”

A landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world, the park also features massive sandstone fins, giant balanced rocks, and hundreds of towering pinnacles—all in vibrant oranges, reds, and other colors.

The visitor’s first stop should be the visitor center, located just inside the park entrance. The modern center offers excellent interactive exhibits and a film that highlights Arches and nearby Canyonlands National Park. Park rangers are available to assist in planning hikes and other activities, answer questions, and provide maps and other materials.

Landscape Arch with a span of 306 feet is one of the largest in North America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Landscape Arch with a span of 306 feet is one of the largest in North America. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once inside the park, the 18-mile Scenic Drive climbs a steep cliff and winds along the arid terrain along the first amazing glimpses of red rock features. The road initially passes the Park Avenue area and then Courthouse Towers. The road then comes to the rolling landscape of Petrified Dunes before arriving at Balanced Rock, where a 55-foot-high boulder sits precariously on a narrow pedestal.

After Balanced Rock, a turnoff leads to the Windows section, home to the first concentration of arches and some of the parks largest. Short trails lead from the road to Cove Arch and to Double Arch. This side road ends at the site of the North and South Windows and Turret Arch.

From the parking area, a one-mile trail loop leads visitors around and through three massive arches. The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles.

The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The two Windows arches, when viewed together, look like giant eyeglasses resting on a nose; they are also known as The Spectacles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Returning to the main park road, the Scenic Drive continues for 2.5 miles to another turnoff which leads to Wolfe Ranch and the Delicate Arch viewpoints. One mile past Wolfe Ranch, you can access two viewpoints for the iconic 52-foot Delicate Arch, which is commemorated on the centennial Utah state license plate.

Once again on the main road, the Scenic Drive provides overlooks for Salt Valley and Fiery Furnace. Fiery Furnace is home to a fascinating labyrinth of ridges and narrow canyons. Due to the maze-like canyons , it’s best explore the area as part of a ranger-guided tour.

The Scenic Drive ends at Devil’s Garden area, site of the park’s campground (reservations strongly advised) and the trailhead for the popular Devils Garden Trail.

Open year-round, the campground offers 52 sites, flush toilets, and water. Evening campfire programs are presented at the campground several times per week in season. Camping fees are charged. Please note that this campground is not suitable for large RVs.

Sculpted formations and landscape of Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sculpted formations and landscape of Arches National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Devils Garden Trail showcases many of the park’s best arches and can be hiked from 1.6 miles to 7.2 miles, depending on your time, fitness level, and number of arches you wish to see. The shortest leg takes visitors to the Famous Landscape Arch, an amazing ribbon of rock that spans more than a football field from base to base.

It is hard to believe that a piece of rock like this can exist. In its thinnest section the arch is only 6 feet thick, yet it supports a span of rock 290 feet long.

In 1991, a 73-foot slab of rock fell out from underneath the thinnest section of the span, thinning the ribboned curve even more.

In 1995, a 47-foot mass of rock fell from the front of the thinnest section of the arch, followed by another 30-foot rock fall less than three weeks later. Due to these events the Park Service has closed the loop trail that once led underneath the arch.

As part of the Colorado Plateau, the park’s elevation ranges from 4,085 feet to 5,653 feet. Summer daytime temperatures often exceed 100 degrees.

When hiking all trails in Arches, it’s important to drink plenty of water, regardless of the season. The park recommends visitors drink a minimum of 1 gallon of water a day.

Worth Pondering…
There is in all things a pattern that is part of our universe.

It has symmetry, elegance, and graced—

those qualities you find always in that which the true artist captures.

You can find it the turning of the seasons,

in the way sand trails along a ridge…

—Frank Herbert, Dune

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Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Naturally

The sense of wonder inspired by the magnificent beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument excites the imagination and invites exploration of the natural world. Within this vast and untamed wilderness, visitors find places for recreation and solitude.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America's public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus. The Canyons are part of a natural basin surrounded by higher areas of the Colorado Plateau. Parts of the Colorado Plateau, such as the Aquarius Plateau, rise to above 11,000 feet, while lower parts of the canyons empty towards Lake Powell at 3,700 feet.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rather than the National Park Service.

Entry into the national monument is by two paved roads: Highway 89 between Kanab and Big Water on its southern end and All American Road Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Boulder on the north. Johnson Canyon Road and Burr Trail are two other hardened-gravel access roads.

All the other roads into the Monument are dirt, clay, or sand. Caution should be exercised when traveling on unpaved roads as conditions can change quickly and dramatically depending on the weather. High clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Services, smart phone access, and water are generally not available.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Despite their different topographies, these three sections share certain qualities: great distances, enormously difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely equaled in the lower forty-eight states. Human activities are limited on these lands, yet their very remoteness and isolation attract seekers of adventure or solitude and those who hope to understand the natural world through the Monument’s wealth of scientific information.

The Grand Staircase rises in broad, tilted terraces. From the south the terraces step up in great technicolor cliffs: vermilion, white, gray, pink. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highest part of the Monument is the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the air, the Plateau appears to fan out southward from the town of Escalante into an enormous grayish green triangle, ending far to the south at Lake Powell and the Paria Plateau. The 42-mile-long Straight Cliffs mark the eastern edge of the plateau, ending at Fiftymile Mountain in the southeast.

To the north of Fiftymile Bench is the Aquarius Plateau, dominated by the 11,000-foot Boulder Mountain. To the east lies an expanse of pale Navajo sandstone which the Escalante River and its tributaries, flowing down from the plateau, have carved into a maze of canyons. In this arid territory, it is ironically water that has done the most to shape the landscape.

As intriguing as it is beautiful, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument also provides remarkable possibilities for scientific research and study. Researchers continue to uncover new insight about how the land was formed and the life it sustains.

What scientists are learning and the methods they use to understand what it all means can be discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitors centers located in the communities of Kanab, Big Water, Cannonville, and Escalante. With so much information to share, each visitor center’s interpretive exhibits focus on different scientific themes, including paleontology (Big Water), geology and archaeology (Kanab), the human landscape (Cannonville), biology, botany, and eology (Escalante).

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through interpretive exhibit, visitors learn about the spectacular Monument resources and gain a greater appreciation for the natural world.

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

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Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated in Torrey at the junction of Scenic Byway 24 and All American Highway 12, just 3 miles from Capitol Reef National Park, Wonderland RV Park is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

After setting up camp at Wonderland RV Park we unhooked our dinghy and ventured out. In no time we were craning our necks as exotic rock formations in shades of grey and maroon began to loom up out of the landscape around us.

This portion of the Scenic Byway 24 (also known as Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway) is characterized by pale, towering cliffs, and swirling rock patterns that look like the gods dipped their fingers in finger paint and smeared the colors on the rounded domes. After a while, these smooth, colorful surfaces gave way to bold, jagged red rock cliffs with flanks resembling cathedral buttresses.

Capitol Reef National Park runs on a north-south axis along a huge buckle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Layer upon layer of rock folded over each other. This 100-mile-long— but relatively narrow—feature was uplifted approximately 6,800 feet higher on the west side. It is named the Waterpocket Fold because of the numerous small potholes, tanks, or “pockets” that hold rainwater and snowmelt. Capitol Reef is actually the most formidable and striking section of the Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three main types of sandstone are responsible for the Waterpocket Fold’s rugged scenery. Navajo Sandstone makes up the white domes and peaks—up to 1,000 feet thick.

They look like the domes on the US Capitol building and on many state capitol buildings. It dominates the Capitol Reef skyline. Reef was a borrowed nautical term used to describe a barrier. Hence, the name. Capitol Reef.

The shale along the bottom layer is reddish brown. High and straight. Wingate Sandstone. Directly on top of that is another layer of many colors. The Kayenta formation.

The Kayenta and Wingate form magnificent walls of soaring cliffs imprisoning the canyons below. Vegetation is sparse except for the rare flat surface where a little soil may have settled.
The Navajo call the area the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow”, an accurate depiction of the many hues of the landscape of Capitol Reef. The “capitol” comes from the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resembles the nation’s capitol building, and the “reef” comes from the rocky cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like coral reefs.

The Capitol Reef area was ill-suited for farming but the fertile soil alongside the Fremont River not only tolerated, it encouraged, the planting of fruit trees. The Mormons arrived to settle the little community they called Fruita in the late 19th century.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, those beautiful orchards offer a grand contrast to the parched, rocky landscape. The former small Mormon colony of Fruita is surrounded by these orchards. Peaches, pears, apples, cherries, and apricots are ready for picking from June to October.

The aptly named Scenic Drive juts 10 miles south from the visitor center past Fruita campground and south along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold into the park’s interior. It has dirt-road turnoffs for Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge with scenery to match their names.

The twisting Grand Wash spur road takes you into a landscape dramatically different from the dark red hills along the base of Capitol Reef. Grand Wash is a narrow, steep-walled canyon subject to dangerous flash floods that often arrive with little warning. Avoid canyons and washes when storms threaten.

Although the scenic drive is the easiest way to see Capitol Reef, there are numerous other routes. Drive Scenic Byway 24 through the park to Notom-Bullfrog Road, which runs south along the eastern edge of the park. There is access to slot canyons and washes in varying conditions and is paved for the first 10 miles.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you have a 4WD vehicle and weather conditions are right, you can make the long drive up to the beautiful Cathedral Valley at the northern end of the park, where tall buttes and pinnacles are reminis­cent of the stark monoliths of Monument Valley. Since you’ll be venturing into extremely remote country it’s essential that you check with a park ranger before making this trip; be sure you have plenty of fuel and water and that you are prepared for any emergency.

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

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7 Family Summer Destinations in South Central Utah

In previous stories on Vogel Talks RVing, we covered family summer locations in southeastern and southwestern Utah that are beautiful, fun, and kid-friendly.

Capitol Reef National Park scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this list we cover destinations in south central Utah including Torrey, Boulder, and Escalante. Like the previous locations, these are easily accessible and enjoyable for all sorts of families and centered around towns that offer inexpensive camping.

No matter which of these amazing places you choose to visit, don’t miss getting to know some of the local residents, guides, park rangers, and fellow travelers around you. You’ll gain wonderful insight and friendships that are sure to make your vacation even more memorable.

Capitol Reef National Park – Fruita

Capitol Reef National Park doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It may not possess the geographical icons of Zion and Bryce but its accessible natural, historical, and archeological sites combine to make it an excellent family destination.

The park got its name in part from the great white rock formations resembling the U.S. Capitol building and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers.

Fruita was a pioneer town that became more of a ghost town in the mid-1900s. There is nothing spooky about its hundreds of fruit trees, however. In season you can pick and eat what you like. You’ll enjoy the many interesting structures and educational displays.

Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park – petroglyph panel

This large and varied petroglyph panel runs for hundreds of feet along the cliffs on the north side of the highway along the Fremont River. A long wooden walkway makes the panels accessible. You might want to bring binoculars to get a close up look.

Like many petroglyph panels, you may have trouble seeing the images. Just keep looking and they’ll start popping out at you. This particular panel is interesting because it includes geometric figures associated with cultures living in the area thousands of years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park – scenic drive

Set aside several hours or so to take the scenic drive south from the visitor center (where you may pick up a virtual tour guide). You’ll pass a number of interesting pioneer and geographic sites. Along the way you’ll come across a number of great places, such as Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge, to climb around and explore.

Boulder – Scenic Byway 12

Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is simply no boring way in or out of this town.

North of Boulder, Scenic Highway 12 wraps around the alpine Boulder Mountain at an elevation close to 10,000 feet. You go from a hot sandstone canyon to a cool pine-covered mountain pass within an hour. Scenic wonders are visible in all directions from this 121-mile-long All American Road as it winds and climbs.

South of Boulder, this scenic byway takes you across Hogsback Road with drop-offs of 1,000+ feet on either side of you. The only real danger here is that the stunning views keep you rubber-necking from side to side. Pull over at one of the turn outs and get your visual fill there. Eyes on the road, my friend.

Burr Trail

For those with 4WD vehicles consider using the Burr Trail Road which enters town from the east coming from the south end of Capitol Reef National Park. The switchbacks up and down the Cockscomb are amazing.

Boulder – Anasazi State Park Museum

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Petrified Forest State Park and Wide Hollow Reservoir © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petrified Forest State Park and Wide Hollow Reservoir © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante- Petrified Forest State Park

A few miles west of town is Petrified Forest State Park and Wide Hollow Reservoir. Adjacent to the fishable reservoir, the state campground has some good shady sites with running water, flushing toilets, and showers.
Don’t miss the couple of short hikes that wind through an ancient fallen petrified forest. Check the message board near the ranger station for evidence of the curse for taking away any souvenirs. Love ’em and leave ’em.

Worth Pondering…
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

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Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude

Big Bend National Park is well off the beaten path…and well worth exploring.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to a national park where you can actually revel in its silence and solitude. Remote, huge, and austere, this national park along the Rio Grande River is an uncrowded gem. One of the largest parks in the country, with more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend is also one of the least visited—thanks to, you guessed it, its remote location.

Big Bend National Park is a land of paradox, beauty, and above all, vastness. Even today, only three paved roads run south into Big Bend, but from those roads the view can astound.

The Rio Grande River squiggles its course across the harsh desert landscape, carving through limestone and shale. The river separates much of the state of Texas from the country of Mexico, and within the big bend formed by the river, sits a region that will appeal to RVers and other travelers who believe the best things in life require a little effort.

The nearest interstate highway access is 1-10 to the north; from Fort Stockton southbound on US 385 it is 125 miles to park headquarters at Panther Junction. Nearest town to the park is Marathon, 70 miles from Panther Junction.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In other words, Big Bend visitors must plan their trips. You can see and enjoy plenty on a day visit, but you won’t see nearly enough, and you will have burned a lot of fuel along the way. Big Bend rangers recommend three days, and depending on what you want to do, a week or more may be a better choice.

Prior to visiting the park, we spent several enjoyable days in Big Bend country at Marathon in a charming little place, Marathon Motel & RV Park.

The next day we headed for the heart of Big Bend down US Highway 385 making a stop at the visitor center at Panther Junction for orientation, maps, brochures, and hiking information. Before setting out on greater quests we, strolled Panther Path and checked out the vegetation found in the Chihuahuan Desert—yucas, lechuguillas, creosote brushes, and bunch grasses.

We then continued to the Rio Grande Village on the Rio Grande River to secure a full hookup site for the duration of our stay.

Big Bend is vast deserts, mountains, canyons and THE river—the Rio Grande—and along the river are several hot springs.

But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park was officially created in 1944, but evidence of human habitation of the Big Bend area dates back roughly 12,000 years. The Mescalero Apache and Comanche tribes were on the long list of those who came to the area.

Each season is unique. Summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees while mild winters allow RVers to explore fascinating geology. The spring months of March, April, and May bring especially good birdwatching with more than 450 species having been counted within the park—more than in any other national park.

There’s not a lot of water here. An average of just 18 inches falls annually in the heights of the Chisos Mountains that tower nearly 8,000 feet into the sky. And if you think that’s not a lot, these mountains get a deluge when compared to the rest of the park. It is a land that is lucky to see 10 inches of rain in a year. This is an arid landscape.

While touring the park in our dinghy we stopped in the Chisos Basin, a valley within a mountainous ring, and one of the park’s most popular areas, with a visitor center, RV park (not suitable for big rigs), and a lodge.

We take a short hike for a clear view of the Window Overlook, or V-Window, as it’s called since its mountainsides form a “V” shape with views of distant mountain ranges.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Big Bend is filled with surprises, scenic beauty, native plants, wild­life, fantastic outdoor recreation, and the opportunity to enjoy them all in a rugged, majestic setting. A visit to this incredible place will provide wonderful memories for years to come.

If you’ve never been to Big Bend, take your RV, take your time, and go. Go. Just go!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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7 Family Summer Destinations in Southwestern Utah

In previous stories on Vogel Talks RVing, 10 Family Summer Destinations in Moab and 6 Family Summer Destinations in Southeast Utah (Bluff) we covered locations in southeastern Utah that are beautiful, fun, and kid-friendly.

Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this list we cover destinations in southwestern Utah that lie west of the Colorado River. Like the previous locations, these are easily accessible and enjoyable for all sorts of families and centered around towns that offer inexpensive camping.

No matter which of these amazing places you choose to visit, don’t miss getting to know some of the local residents, guides, rangers, and fellow travelers around you. You’ll gain wonderful insight and friendships that are sure to make your vacation even more memorable.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Visitor Center and Campground

The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center has some interesting educational displays on the formation of Bryce and the area’s wildlife.

Ruby’s Inn Campground offers 250 shady and open campsites for RVs. All sites have electric and water, or full hook-ups as well as a large pull-through area for the driver’s ease and comfort.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Trail

Bryce Canyon from the rim trail may not offer a lot of solitude but the views are breathtaking.
You can do a great job of imitating a professional photographer at dusk or dawn from either Sunset or Sunrise Points respectively. Now that is some logical location naming.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park – Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

One of the best ways to get the most of Bryce Canyon is to get down into the rocks by combining the first leg of the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queens Garden Trail. This relatively moderate three-mile combination loop starts at Sunset Point and ends at Sunrise Point, which are quite close to each other. Whatever you do, take the time to walk down to Wall Street. The trail down may look intimidating but the number of switchbacks makes it pretty easy.

Cedar Breaks National Monument 

At an elevation of 10,350 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks National Monument is the highest national park in Utah. This park is renowned for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin.

Park facilities include 30 campsites, a five-mile scenic drive, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The visitor center which stands next to the amphitheater is open from Memorial Day to mid-October.

ion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenic drive has four pullouts for gazing deep into its interior. North View overlook faces south. Chessman Ridge and Sunset View overlooks both have views to the west, and Point Supreme has the only viewpoint that looks due north.

Zion National Park – Visitors Center

Zion National Park is full of easy options to take in some beautiful nature. Zion is so striking and unique it’s fun to just be in the canyon and look—everywhere.
After learning a bit about the park, develop a plan of attack at the Visitor Center and then take the shuttle bus into the park. There are suitable kids’ trails at nearly every stop.
Plan your camping well in advance. The two campgrounds in the park fill up fast.
Zion National Park – Emerald Pools Trails

The Emerald Pools Trails are perfect for kids—not too long, not too steep with a fun playful payoff at your destination.
The vegetation surrounding the sparkling pools and glistening waterfalls is almost tropical it’s so lush. It also stays pretty cool on a hot day. You’ll have fun hopping rocks to cross the stream and pool edges.

The trailhead is across the highway from Zion Lodge

Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park – Kolob Canyons

Heading north from St. George on Interstate 15 take exit 40 and drive the short Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway to the picturesque Kolob Canyons. The short scenic drive ascends 1,100 feet, showcasing deep reddish-orange cliffs, protruding abruptly from the ground. The road terminates at Timber Creek Overlook. Stop at the Visitor Center and pick up a brochure that explains the 14 numbered stops along the drive. The best time to view the canyons is early morning.

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.
—Eric Hansen

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6 Family Summer Destinations in Southeast Utah

Summer is here, and maybe it’s time to plan a trip to some of the wonders found in southeastern Utah.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we explored family-friendly destinations in and around Moab including two national parks, a state park, and three scenic byways.

The next home base for exploring southeastern Utah is Bluff, 100 miles to the south of Moab on US-191. In today’s post we introduce you to some wonderful landscapes and family adventures in and around Bluff.

Bluff – The Town

Nominated as one of Budget Travel Magazine’s coolest small towns, Bluff is nestled between dramatic sandstone bluffs and the San Juan River on the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway in southeastern Utah. The Navajo reservation borders the town weaving the culture of the Navajo people with Bluff’s eclectic style.

People often say that “Bluff is a feeling”. The Navajo word, “Hozho”, may explain it best.  Hozho is said to be the most important word in the Navajo language and is loosely translated as peace, balance, beauty, and harmony.  To be “in Hozho” is to be at one with and a part of the world around you.

Natural Bridges National Monument

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

Along with a developed campsite, Natural Bridges National Monument offers both easy and moderately strenuous routes from which to view the three large natural bridges in the monument. You can get a lot out of simply driving the loop and stopping at each of the turnouts or you can venture a few hundred feet down into the canyon to see the bridges and the streams that formed them firsthand.
What about ruins, you ask? As a matter of fact, there are quite a few down in the canyons. Thanks for asking.

Montezuma Creek Road

Montezuma Creek Road runs from near Monticello down to a point west of Bluff. It’s an amazing drive—winding and dusty, but amazing.

Besides traveling through beautiful southeastern Utah canyons, it passes a number of excellent Anasazi ruins and kivas and an old trading post and crosses Montezuma Creek at a place that any youngster—or adult, for that matter—will find as entertaining as a water park.

A 2WD vehicle with decent ground clearance should get by just fine.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

East of Bluff toward the Colorado border is the network of archeological sites known as Hovenweep National Monument. The main visitor center is situated near the largest set of ruins, Square Tower.

If you don’t mind a few more miles of driving and a bit of dirt road navigating, it is worth visiting the other outlier sites such as Holly and Horseshoe & Hackberry.

Remarkably well preserved and castle-like, these structures are sure to spark the imagination.

Moki Dugway

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa on SR-261 south of Natural Bridges National Monument. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below.

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. The remainder of US-261 is paved.

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is the smaller neighbor of the more famous Monument Valley. It’s impressive, isolated pinnacles and buttes make the views worth the loop drive that leaves Highway 163 a few miles east of Mexican Hat and deposits you at the base of Moki Dugway and just a few miles north of Goosenecks State Park.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Straddling the Utah-Arizona border, Monument Valley is a cluster of majestic sandstone buttes rising from the desert floor. Lying within the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley has been the location of many western films, especially John Ford films featuring John Wayne.

You’ll not want to miss Goulding’s Trading Post Museum which displays interesting movie, western and Navajo memorabilia within the Goulding home as it was in the 1940s and ’50s.

Worth Pondering…

Roadtrips have beginnings and ends, but it’s what’s in between that counts.

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10 Family Summer Destinations in Moab

Summer is here, and maybe it’s time to plan a trip to some of the wonders found in southeastern Utah.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, in the interest of creating some indelible memories and introducing you to some wonderful landscapes and family adventures, Vogel Talks RVing has compiled this list of family-friendly destinations in Moab.

Moab’s easy access to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River, three scenic byways, and thousands of square miles of amazing red rock landscapes has made it one of the most sought-after destinations in the American Southwest.

The town

Moab is fun, has some good restaurants, a variety of camping options, and is close to countless natural wonders and fun family activities. And camping spots fill up quickly in the summer. Once you arrive in Moab, your first stop should be the Moab Information Center located at the corner of Main and Center Street.

Dead Horse Point State Park

This is one of the most photographed vistas in the world. The Colorado River never looked so good—except from maybe one of the Grand Canyon overlooks. The drive is less than an hour from Moab and you can easily tie in a visit to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands – Island in the Sky

From Moab it takes around 40 minutes to drive to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. At a minimum we’d suggest the very short hike to Mesa Arch and either the White Rim Overlook or the Grand View Point Overlook.

Canyonlands – the Needles

If your travels take you south of Moab, it is well worth the half-day side trip to drive out to Needles. On your way you’ll want to pull over at the petroglyph-filled Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument. Once in the park your kids will find the old cowboy camp at Cave Spring Trail and the ancestral Puebloan granary ruin fascinating.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway

The La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway features spectacular scenery ranging from the forested heights of the La Sal Mountains to expansive views of the red rock landscape below. This paved Scenic Backway begins on US-191, six miles south of Moab, and winds north over the La Sal Mountains through Castle Valley, ending at Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-128). Returning to Moab provides a 60 mile loop drive that requires approximately three hours to complete.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches – Visitor Center

The Arches Visitor Center is not large but does a great job of orienting you to what the park has to offer and how its attractions were formed. The knowledgeable rangers can help you create a custom plan based on your family’s ages, abilities, time available, and interests.

Arches – Windows section

The Windows section of Arches has some of the most accessible trails and sites for young hikers. On the short loop trail you’ll pass three different large arches: North and South Windows and Turret. Across the parking lot is Double Arch.
Arches – Campground trails

Approaching the Devils Garden trail at the end of the park road you’ll see trails heading off to Sand Dune Arch, Skyline Arch, and Broken Arch. These trails are very easy and short and offer some great areas in which to climb and play around.

Arches: Fiery Furnace tour

If we could do only one half-day trip in Arches, it would be a visit to the Fiery Furnace. Because of its maze-like structure and sensitive environment, first time Fiery Furnace visitors must accompany a ranger-guided tour. The three-mile round trip hike is fine for anyone older than four. This area’s beauty, variety, and complexity never ceases to amaze and inspire.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-279)

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-279) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-279) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Scenic Byway provides great views of the Colorado River, ancient rock art, and dinosaur tracks. A late afternoon start is rewarding as the sunset on the reddish-orange sandstone cliffs along the route is especially beautiful on the return drive to Moab.

This byway begins 4.1 miles north of Moab, where Potash Road (UT-279) turns off of Highway 191. After 2.7 miles Potash Road enters the deep gorge of the Colorado River. At the four mile point, look for rock climbers on the cliffs along the section of Potash Road, locally referred to as Wall Street.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

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