Top Culinary (Wine & Bourbon) Campgrounds, RV Parks & Resorts

These select RV Parks are located in regions known for distinctive local cuisine, wine regions, and Bourbon Country, and in areas that host popular food and wine festivals.

Flag City RV Resort, Lodi, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Flag City RV Resort, Lodi, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These RV parks are located in fertile farming regions, areas known for regional cuisine, and near major cities. The common denominator: they’re ideal for adventurous RV food, wine, and bourbon lovers seeking great food on the road.

Flag City RV Resort, a 5-star RV park, offers 150 full hookup sites with 30/50-amp electric sites with cable and park-wide WiFi. Flag City is ideally situated to explore 75,000 acres of Lodi vineyards and enjoy the fine wine-tasting opportunities at 50 unique wineries that includes Van Rutten Vineyards, Michael David Winery, and Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi.

In the Western Canadian province of British Columbia, the Okanagan Valley has developed into a significant wine-producing area. Located in the southern interior, the Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes.

Wine festivals are a great opportunity to meet the winemakers and sample wine. A superb wine experience, the Fall Okanagan Wine Festival is now in its 35th year (October 1-11, 2015). Located in the heart of Wine Country, Desert Gem RV Resort, offers full hook-ups with 30/50-amp electric service, water, sewer, cable, telephone, and high-speed internet.

Orange Groove RV Park, Bakersfield, California
Orange Groove RV Park, Bakersfield, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Orange Grove RV Park in Bakersfield is on the route snowbirds and other RVers use when traveling to the Southwest desert area including Palm Springs and Indio. The park is situated in an actual orange grove. During the picking season—late November through early March—campers are invited to pick as many oranges as they can personally use, and even loaned the appropriate picking implements. Take a bag along with you when you leave, because you’ll never find these in a grocery store!

Conveniently located with easy access to Bourbon Country and the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Grandma’s RV Camping in Shepherdsville offers 30 pull through spaces 70 feet in total length and 35 back-in spaces to accommodate vehicles up to 45 feet in length. All sites include full hook-ups with 20/30/50-amp service and free wireless Internet service.

Adventures in culture, food, and music await in Cajun Country where life is on the spicy side.

With quintessential Louisiana flavors such as boudin, crackling, crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya, and hot sauce, Acadiana has all the makings for a taste-tempting trip. Louisiana’s landscape and history create a culinary tradition unlike any place else—and that makes it the perfect RV getaway for anyone who loves to eat. Experience the flavor of Cajun Country, learn the history, culture, and local cuisine at Frog City RV Park in Duson, 10 miles east of Lafayette.

Riverbend RV Park, Luling, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Riverbend RV Park, Luling, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

RiverBend RV Park and Campground is a scenic 20 acre park located on the banks of the San Marcos River in Luling. Luling is home to world famous barbecue, and is the first stop on the Texas Barbecue Trail. Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas, is a short away. Explore the area with day trips to Shiner, home of Spoetzl Brewery and Shiner Bock beer and Brenham, home of Blue Bell Creameries, manufacturer of Blue Bell ice cream. Tours and taste testing are available.

Columbia Sun RV Resort is the prime Tri-Cities RV park destination. The resort offers 145 full-service sites with 30/50-amp electric service on 25 beautiful landscaped acres; 70 large sites for big rigs. The region provides visitors with a variety of activities to choose from including 160 Yakima Valley wineries in nearby Prosser.

Hacienda RV and Rally Resort is conveniently located immediately off of I -10 in Las Cruces within walking distance to historic Old Mesilla. New Mexican food is unlike any other, and it would be a shame not to take advantage of the variety of flavors available in the state’s wide array of restaurants. The foundation of New Mexican cooking, long pungent chili pods can be picked in their green or red form. In either color, chiles become the key ingredient in cooked sauces served as an integral part of traditional dishes, rather than simply being served as a separate salsa-style accompaniment.

It’s never too soon to start planning your own culinary adventure.

Vogel Talks RVing selected the list of top snowbird RV parks and resorts from parks personally visited.

Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick, Washington © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick, Washington

Desert Gem RV Resort, Oliver, British Columbia

Flag City RV Resort, Lodi, California

Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana

Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville, Kentucky

Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Nk’Mip RV Park, Osoyoos, British Columbia

Orange Groove RV Park, Bakersfield, California

Riverbend RV Park, Luling, Texas

Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after a day of safe travel.
Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spartanburg/Gaffney KOA, Gaffney, South Carolina

Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump, Nevada

Worth Pondering…

Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.”
―Andre Simon

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Using Campgrounds As Base Camps For Festivals

Campgrounds are great places to enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Heaven Hill Bourbon Heritage Center, Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With RV and tent sites as well as a wide range of accommodations, campgrounds can also serve as base camps for those interested in attending festivals throughout the U.S and Canada. These events range from rodeos to music festivals and cultural to culinary happenings.

Following is a sampling of the festivals that take place during the coming weeks and months, along with listings of nearby attractions and campgrounds and RV parks, many of which also have rental accommodations.

All parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

Kentucky: Kentucky Bourbon Festival, Bardstown, September 15-20, 2015

The Kentucky Bourbon Festival is a six-day Festival dedicated to the legendary spirit of Kentucky. Distillers from across the state of Kentucky come together to share their Bourbon in a variety of events. The 2015 Festival will be the 24th annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival in historic Bardstown, Kentucky, the Bourbon Capital of the World. There is fun—and activities for all ages.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Getz Whiskey Museum, Kentucky Bourbon Trail, My Old Kentucky Home

Recommended RV Park: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville

Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New Mexico: The Whole Enchilada Fiesta, Las Cruces, September 26-27, 2015

Nearby Attractions: White Sands National Monument, Historic Mesilla, New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum

Recommended RV Park: Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces

British Columbia: 35th Annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival, Okanagan Valley, October 1-11, 2015

Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Okanagan Wine Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Warm, desert days and cool nights—just what the viticulturist ordered to ripen grapes and prepare for harvest. It also makes a great time to visit the Okanagan. For 10 days in early October the annual Fall Okanagan Wine Festival celebrates earthly delights. The only festival in North America to happen at the heart of harvest and feature more than 100 events.

Enjoy a vineyard tour, lunch among the vines, dine on a waterfront patio, or take in a wine pairings seminar. Find the wine experience that’s right for you and create your own wine story.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Okanagan Wine Trail, Wine Tastings and Tours, Kettle Valley Steam Railway, SS Sicamous, Father Pandosy Museum

Recommended RV Parks: Desert Gem RV Resort, Oliver, British Columbia, and Nk’Mip RV Park, Osoyoos, British Columbia

Alabama: BayFest, Mobile, October 2-4, 2015

BayFest will be celebrating its 21st Anniversary in 2015. BayFest is an annual music festival that is expected to draw more than 200,000 guests, who will make merry in the streets of downtown Mobile and see more than 125 live musical acts on nine stages during the weekend. BayFest offers continuous music for every taste, including country, classic rock, alternative, pop, jazz, R&B, rap, gospel, modern rock, and more. Mobile’s BayFest music festival also includes a family activity area that has garnered rave reviews.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Exploreum, U.S.S. Alabama Battleship, Bellingrath Gardens, Alabama Gulf Coast

Recommended RV Parks: Bella Terra of Gulf Shores, Foley, Alabama; Gulf State Park, Gulf Shore, Alabama; and Lake Osprey RV Resort, Elberta, Alabama

New Mexico: American Indian Art Festival, Albuquerque, October 3-4, 2015

American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hear Native drums as you enter into the Albuquerque American Indian Art Festival at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center. At the outdoor plaza , there’s a marketplace filled with tribal artists from across the country, selling handmade items. Dancers perform tribal dances every hour. Groups can also enjoy a wide selection of Native and American cuisine at the award-winning Pueblo Harvest Café.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Acoma “Sky City” Pueblo, Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Sandia Peak Tramway, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Park: American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico

New Mexico: International Balloon Fiesta, Albuquerque, October 3-11, 2015

Each fall, pilots, crews, and spectators from all over the world come to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the world’s largest hot air ballooning event. For nine days during the first full week of October, hundreds of colorful balloons float above the city each morning as dawn breaks over the Sandia Mountains. It’s no wonder this visual feast is said to be the world’s most photographed event.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Acoma Pueblo, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Sandia Peak Tramway, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Park: American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

There is adventure in any trip; it’s up to us to seek it out.

—Jamie Francis

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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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Tailgating RV Style: The Next Four

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

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

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

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

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

Auburn

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

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

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

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

Texas

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

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

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

Clemson

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

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

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

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

South Carolina

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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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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Tailgating RV Style: The Top Four

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

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

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

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

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

Ole Miss

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

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

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

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

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

LSU

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

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

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

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

Alabama

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

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

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

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

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

Texas A&M

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Pat Conroy

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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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Texas Hill Country: Gruene & Blanco

For another change of pace we continued through New Braunfels to neighboring Gruene (locals call it “Green”), a delightfully dilapidated 1870s German farming community that once boasted the area’s largest cotton gin. Today the town is a National Historic District.

The town's most famous attraction is Gruene Hall. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The town’s most famous attraction is Gruene Hall. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Situated on the banks of the Guadalupe River, the Gruene cotton gin processed crops raised by area farmers until the wooden structure burned to the ground in 1922.  All that remains of the water-powered mill today is the three story brick boiler room—now the Gristmill River Restaurant & Bar. Located in the historic district just beneath the famous Gruene water tower, the restaurant opened in 1977, serving steaks and hamburgers from a tiny kitchen in the corner of the building.
The menu still features thick steaks and large hamburgers, but the restaurant also serves up popular South Texas fare like chicken fried steak, fried catfish, grilled chicken, enormous sandwiches, fresh fish, and special dishes like tomatillo chicken and bronzed catfish. Fudge pie, an enormous strawberry shortcake, and their signature Jack Daniel’s Pecan Pie are famous desserts. A full bar with a good wine list and fresh squeezed lime margaritas are also big hits.

The town’s most famous attraction is Gruene Hall.

Gruene (locals call it "Green"), a delightfully dilapidated 1870s German farming community that once boasted the area's largest cotton gin. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Gruene (locals call it “Green”), a delightfully dilapidated 1870s German farming community that once boasted the area’s largest cotton gin. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in 1878, Gruene Hall is Texas’ oldest continually operating and most famous dance hall. By design, not much has physically changed since the Hall was first built. The 6,000 square foot dance hall with a high pitched tin roof still has the original layout with side flaps for open air dancing, a bar in the front, a small lighted stage in the back, and a huge outdoor garden. Advertisement signs from the 1930s and ’40s still hang in the old hall and around the stage.

Gruene Hall has become internationally recognized as a destination tourist attraction and major music venue for up-and-coming as well as established artists. Since 1975, the Hall has played host to hundreds of celebrities whose pictures adorn the walls.

The Hall has served as a stage for many great blues and country singers, including Willie Nelson, George Strait, Garth Brooks, Merle Haggard, Ray Price, Bo Diddley, Aaron Neville, and BB King.

The owner’s focus on booking singer-songwriters and artists who play original material has provided a fertile proving ground for many former “new talents” such as George Strait, Hal Ketchum, and Lyle Lovett.

The Blanco River meanders past thriving lavender farms before pooling in town at Blanco State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Blanco River meanders past thriving lavender farms before pooling in town at Blanco State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A 35-minute drive to the northwest, Blanco, an unassuming small town in the Texas Hill Country, takes its name from the local river, which begins its journey in higher elevations west of town. From there, the Blanco meanders in an easterly direction past thriving lavender farms before pooling in town at Blanco State Park.

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

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

© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure built in 1885, is the square’s most prominent building and anchors a historic district. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

On to Austin and San Antonio! One thing that makes the Texas Hill Country so appealing is the two great cities bordering the region: San Antonio to the south  and Austin to the north. But that’s for another day.

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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