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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Charleston: Crown Jewel Of The Deep South

Charleston is the crown jewel of the Deep South.

With a rich 300-year heritage, history can be found around every corner. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
With a rich 300-year heritage, history can be found around every corner. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some of the historic and stunning sights that await you include Fort Sumter and Fort Moultrie, Southern mansions and plantations, quaint tree-lined streets bursting with historical significance, must-see museums, beautiful beaches, and some of the best dining in the South.

The city’s elegance was created by the abundant rice crops of the region’s swampy fields. Wealthy plantation owners reaped the labor of the many slaves who came through the port city of Charleston.

The world those early Charleston residents left behind is something to behold. To get a closer look at Charleston’s history, take a walk through the historic district. But before heading out, stop at the visitor center at 375 Meeting Street. In addition to a small museum, the center offers maps, guides, and parking information.

We began our tour of the old city by exploring The Battery, a landmark promenade that follows the shore of the peninsula and the Ashley and Cooper rivers. From Battery Park, also known as White Point Gardens, we enjoyed a gorgeous view of the Charleston Harbor, including the striking 13,200-foot-long Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge. The structure, with a main span of 1,546 feet, is the longest cable-stayed bridge in the Western Hemisphere.

What a place Charleston South Carolina is. It is beautiful and steeped in history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
What a place Charleston South Carolina is. It is beautiful and steeped in history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Battery Park—a park since 1837, but once used for artillery during the Civil War—is shaded by grand live oak trees draped with Spanish moss. It includes a bandstand and artillery pieces.

Leaving Battery Park, we strolled the charming streets lined with live oaks, gazed at the elegant homes, and peeked through the iron gates at many of the formal backyard gardens.

Heading north, we walked the raised sidewalk that skirts between the harbor and the historic homes along East Battery Street and East Bay Street.

Farther along we came to the famous Rainbow Row. This section is home to pastel-colored, mid-18th century homes. Near Rainbow Row is Waterfront Park, a beautiful eight-acre park with fountains, spacious lawns, and a large pier.

Continuing along East Bay Street, we arrived at Market Hall and Sheds, a National Historic Landmark. The Market—also known as City Market—was originally where vendors brought meat and produce in from surrounding communities and dates back to the early 1800s.

Since 1776, the Drayton family has called Magnolia Plantation their home, and today it's open to the public. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Since 1776, the Drayton family has called Magnolia Plantation their home, and today it’s open to the public. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The market today is home to products geared to the city’s visitors. We found the hustle and bustle of an old fashioned market, but with vendors showcasing Lowcountry arts and crafts, clothing, jewelry, and some standard souvenir fare. The most interesting products are the sweetgrass baskets locally crafted by Gullah women of West African descent who speak in an old Gullah dialect of English.

Just outside Charleston, visitors can tour some of the gorgeous plantations that once flourished and created the wealth of the antebellum era. Since 1776, the Drayton family has called Magnolia Plantation their home, and today it’s open to the public and includes Audubon Swamp Garden, the oldest garden in America.

Middleton Place, practically next door to Magnolia Plantation, is a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens. The elegant symmetry of the terraces and butterfly-shaped lakes reveal the classic European style of the 18th century.

And don’t miss Boone Hall with its majestic avenue of moss-draped live oaks. This photogenic showplace claims to be the most photographed plantation in America.

Middleton Place, practically next door to Magnolia Plantation, is a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Middleton Place, practically next door to Magnolia Plantation, is a National Historic Landmark and home to America’s Oldest Landscaped Gardens. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While touring Charleston the campground at James Island County Park served as our home base. An ideal location amidst scenic beauty and an amazing drive through display of Christmas lights, the 643-acre park is convenient to downtown Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry, and the campground provides a round-trip shuttle service to the city’s visitor center.

The park itself makes a fun destination. Miles of paved trails wind through forests and Palmetto trees and skirt by marshes and tidal creeks. Bicycle rentals are available, as are pedal boats and kayak rentals for its 16 acres of lakes.

Traveling through the south? Charleston is a must stop.

Worth Pondering…

If you lead a good life,

go to church,

and say your prayers,

you’ll go to Charleston

when you die.

—old South Carolina saying

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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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Sedona: Beautiful, Mysterious & Seductive

Beautiful. Mysterious. Seductive.

Sedona’s mesmerizing red-rock country is unique to the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona’s mesmerizing red-rock country is unique to the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

These words describe Sedona.

But words alone cannot adequately describe this part of the country. Exhilarating nature! Scary excitement! Spiritual renewal! The sun and the moon! Incredible historic stories of wisdom and strength! The wild animals, birds, and flora! And of course, art! All are surrounded by azure blue skies and clean air.

The massive red-orange buttes and spires surrounding Sedona carry imaginative names reflecting their curious shapes—names like Cathedral Rock, Courthouse Butte, Bell Rock, Coffee Pot, and Snoopy. Towering along the southern edge of the Colorado Plateau, these monoliths lend an aura of mystery as well as incredible beauty to this landscape.

Sedona’s mesmerizing red-rock country is unique to the world. The Sedona community offers so much—history, archeology, arts, culture, hiking, biking, off-road adventure, and spiritual and metaphysical meditations.

Uptown Sedona and Pink Jeeps heading out of town to tour into the more remote parts of the Red Rock Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Uptown Sedona and Pink Jeeps heading out of town to tour into the more remote parts of the Red Rock Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is a four season, red rock playground where families can escape, romantic adventures materialize, and photographers’ dreams come true. Surrounded by stunning red rock formations and an abundance of activities for people of all ages and interests, it’s no wonder Sedona has been ranked as one of the most beautiful places on Earth by Good Morning America.

During the winter Sedona receives a bit of snow but daytime temperatures seldom drop lower than 40 degrees, making hiking a year-round activity. Summer can come as early as March. Summer arrives in May, offering a cool getaway for people living in the warmer desert regions, and then by mid-July the monsoon season brings rainstorms filled with dramatic lightening flashes. By the end of October autumn splashes the canyons with blazing shades of red and yellow.

Spring is our favorite time in Sedona. Bring your hiking boots and camera.

Drive through the 16-mile gorge of the Oak Creek Canyon. This winding two-lane road can be very crowded and is not for your big rig. This stretch of road was Arizona’s first officially designated scenic byway.

Set among stately sycamores and lush gardens, Tlaquepaque was built in the Spanish colonial style in the 1970s as a place for artists to live and work. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Set among stately sycamores and lush gardens, Tlaquepaque was built in the Spanish colonial style in the 1970s as a place for artists to live and work. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You will want to stop at every lookout and hike some of the trails along the way.

Slide Rock State Park, about seven miles up the canyon from Sedona on Highway 89A, is famous for its natural water slide with cool water and warm rocks creating great swimming holes.

For maps and brochures and to purchase a Red Rock Pass stop at the Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center, located in Uptown Sedona. Walking tours, trolley rides, and Pink Jeep tours introduce you to many historic areas and scenic back roads and vistas.

And then there is Tlaquepaque (Tla-keh-pah-keh), a beautiful artist colony and shopping area. Set among stately sycamores and lush gardens it was built in the Spanish colonial style in the 1970s as a place for artists to live and work. It has a lovely old-world feel with charming courtyards, fountains, balconies, and hidden niches. More than 40 shops, galleries, and restaurants offer some truly outstanding works of art.

One of the most popular activities in Sedona is to take a Jeep tour out into the more remote parts of the Red Rock Country. Our favorite of these trips is up and over the primitive Schnebly Hill Road (FS 153) which zigzags east from State Route 179 in Sedona, 13 miles to I-17.

Sedona and Red Rock Country as viewed from the top of Airport Road. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country as viewed from the top of Airport Road. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Named for Sedona Schnebly who sheltered travelers in her home during the early 20th century, the road twists and winds along massive cliffs as it travels the Mund’s Mountain Wilderness area. Each bend in the road offers incredible views of sandstone mountains in vivid shades of scarlet and cream. If you have a high clearance vehicle you can make this drive yourself, as we have done on several occasions.

Just a two-hour drive north of Phoenix, two hours from the Grand Canyon and 30 miles south of Flagstaff, Sedona is central to many of Arizona’s major attractions making it an ideal destination.

We always leave this part of Arizona reluctantly and know that you, too, are sure to experience the magic that is Sedona and Red Rock Country.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

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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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Central Vermont: More Yummy Attractions, “The Hills Are Alive”& More

Central Vermont, from Burlington to the Montpelier area, offers many interesting and delicious attractions to RVers.

Tours of the Ben & Jerry's ice cream plant in Waterbury is the state's number one attraction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Tours of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream plant in Waterbury is the state’s number one attraction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we explored Vermont’s capital city, largest city, and Granite Capital of the World—Montpelier, Burlington, and Barre.

Next we explored Waterbury, 13 miles northwest of Montpelier.

Set along the Winooski River, Waterbury tends to sprawl more than other Vermont towns, perhaps in part because of the flood of 1927, which came close to leveling the town.

We look around town with its brick commercial architecture and sampling of handsome early homes; most travelers, however, are either passing through or looking for “that ice cream place.”

Just to the north of Waterbury along Route 100 Scenic Byway lie the major destinations for food-lovers—Ben & Jerry’s, Cold Hollow Cider Mill, the Cabot Cheese Annex—and Waterbury Center, with its stunning views of the Worcester Range. In the 1800s, the farmers lived up in the Center, while the businesspeople lived down in the Village.

Cold Hollow Cider Mill, New England’s favorite cider mill which is a must stop for all Vermont travelers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cold Hollow Cider Mill, New England’s favorite cider mill which is a must stop for all Vermont travelers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tours of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream plant in Waterbury is the state’s number one attraction. There is no ice cream production on weekends, but tours are available every day. Samples at the end of the tour are delicious and, of course, there is more ice cream for sale. We came and saw and we ate ice cream

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield launched an accidental empire when they took a mail-order course in ice-cream making in 1978. They’ve moved up from the converted gas station in Burlington (where they started) to a state-of-the-art factory in Waterbury. Tours are popular and fun for the entire family.

A short distance north of Ben & Jerry’s is some of the best chocolate we’ve ever taste at Lake Champlain Chocolates with samples galore. At the adjacent Cabot Cheese Annex Store we nibble our way through a vast array of cheese varieties, as well as many other Vermont specialty foods.

The 200-year-old village is compact and home to what may be Vermont’s most gracefully tapered church spire, atop the Stowe Community Church. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The 200-year-old village is compact and home to what may be Vermont’s most gracefully tapered church spire, atop the Stowe Community Church. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then it’s onto Cold Hollow Cider Mill, New England’s favorite cider mill which is a must stop for all Vermont travelers. The Cold Hollow Cider Mill is New England’s largest producer of fresh apple cider. Over the last 30 years the Mill has become a “must see” destination for cider lovers and travelers seeking a true Vermont experience. More than 300,000 travelers stop by each year, making it one of the most popular attractions in the State. Here we enjoy free samples of cider, fudge, and other specialty foods. Their natural foods bakery features apple pies, turnovers, and legendary cider donuts. We also watch cider making and a live beehive.

Continuing north on Route 100 is the charming village of Stowe, probably the most famous ski center in New England. Take an hour to wander around this quaint and attractive town. It abounds with inns and restaurants, all catering to leaf peepers. The 200-year-old village is compact and home to what may be Vermont’s most gracefully tapered church spire, atop the Stowe Community Church.

Most of the growth in recent decades has taken place along Mountain Road (Route 108), which runs northwest of the village to the base of Mount Mansfield and the Stowe ski area. Here you’ll find an array of motels, restaurants, shops, and bars. The chief complaint about Mountain Road is traffic, invariably backing up at day’s end in winter and on foliage weekends, making a trip into the village an interesting experiment in blood-pressure management.

Yes, the Hills Are Alive...recapture The Sound of Music at the Trapp Family Lodge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Yes, the Hills Are Alive…recapture The Sound of Music at the Trapp Family Lodge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Finally it’s on to the nearby Trapp Family Lodge, where the von Trap family of The Sound of Music fame took up residence after fleeing Europe. Experienced travelers have described it this way: “A little of Austria, a lot of Vermont, and pretty close to heaven.”
Perhaps that’s why Baron Georg von Trapp, his wife Maria, and their children eventually settled in Stowe after fleeing Nazi-occupied Austria in 1938. In 1942 they purchased a hill farm in Stowe and named it Cor Unum (One Heart), which later became the Trapp Family Lodge.

The Trapp Family Lodge is located on a 2,700-acre mountainside property with panoramic views of the Green Mountains and the village of Stowe. The buildings combine the charm and elegance of a European alpine lodge with the comforts and conveniences of a modern resort.

Guests notice the distinctly Tyrolean architecture with wrap-around balconies, hand-carved balustrades, steeply pitched gables, and a cedar shake roof accented with a traditional Austrian bell tower.

One of the most awesome autumn scene we’ve ever set eyes on, the Trapp Family Lodge is definitely a great place to admire Mother Nature’s fall foliage party!

Yes, the Hills Are Alive…recapture The Sound of Music!

Worth Pondering…

To drive along a Vermont country road in (autumn) is to be dazzled by the shower of lemon and scarlet and gold that washes across your windshield”

—Charles Kuralt

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