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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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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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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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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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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