Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present

Before New Orleans, there was Mobile—the birthplace of Mardi Gras in America.

Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Flickr)
Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Flickr)

Mobile, founded by Roman Catholics from France in 1702, was home to the first mystic society, or krewe, which held America’s first Mardi Gras celebration in 1704—14 years before New Orleans was even founded.

More than four centuries later, those krewes are still responsible for the vast majority of parades and balls of Carnival.

Most Americans know Mardi Gras as a celebration of feasting, festivals, and exuberant parades, but it took more than a century for the parading to start.

On New Year’s Eve 1830 on their way home from dinner, a group of friends raided Patridge Hardware Store taking rakes, cowbells, and gongs which they used as musical instruments as they paraded through the streets to the mayor’s house where were invited in for breakfast. These fun-loving fellows formed the Cowbellion de Rakin Society which is French for the Cowbell and Rake Society.

By 1840, the Cowbellions added themes with floats to their procession. This was the first Mardi Gras parade in the form we know them today.

Also parading on New Year’s Eve was the Tea Drinkers Society which was formed by a group of teenagers, including Little Joseph Stillwell Cain, later to become Mobile’s most famous native.

Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Flickr)
Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Flickr)

Mobile’s 39 parading societies hold their parades in the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, but the greatest number are held on the weekend and Monday (Lundi Gras) before. Most of the parades are precursors to the pomp and pageantry of the mystic societies’ ultra-formal white tie balls, which can have Broadway-caliber sets and performances (called “tableaux”), their own kings, queens, and royal courts and up to 6,000 people in attendance.

The kings and queens wear opulent tuxedos and gowns, each with a custom-made train that can reach 21 feet long and weigh up to 75 pounds. The trains may include several yards of velvet, silk, and fur; thousands of Swarovski crystals; precious stones; gold, silver, and platinum lame; leather and lace; rhinestones and glass beads.

Each train costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and is custom-designed to reflect the personality of the newly crowned king or queen, including family crests and Greek society letters. Mobilians spend $33 million on Mardi Gras season, and visitors kick in $200 million more.

Mystic societies tend to be exclusive; one must be a member or be invited by a member to attend most of the balls. But some are open to the public.

Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Flickr)
Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Flickr)

The Order of Doves, Mobile’s first African-American mystic society, was formed in 1890 and reborn three years ago as the first truly inclusive mystic society in Mobile history. Anyone—black or white, male or female—can join, and membership is not shrouded in secrecy. This year’s Order of Doves ball, held after a parade on Lundi Gras, is open to the public.

While visitors are encouraged to buy tickets to these public events, any Mobilian will tell you that it’s relatively easy to obtain an invitation to a private ball. With roughly 80 balls per Carnival season and anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 attendees at each, there are bound to be some seats to fill.

The parades start 18 days before Mardi Gras and are family-friendly—in stark contrast to that other city. Float riders toss doubloons—aluminum coins embossed with the society’s name, year of founding, and emblem on one side and the year of the parade on the other—as well as beads, candies, plastic trinkets, and moon pies. Especially moon pies. Some 3.5 million moon pies will be tossed to the crowd during Carnival.

While every day of Carnival is a spectacle, none is greater than Joe Cain Day. Cain, who brought Mardi Gras celebrations back to Mobile after the Civil War, is honored on the Sunday before Mardi Gras every year with a graveyard procession featuring Cain’s Merry Widows, who dress in 1800s funeral attire and weep and wail for their beloved husband. Once they’ve finished this ritual, the Widows throw black beads and black roses to the crowd and head over to Cain’s original home in the Oakleigh Historic District, where they are invited in for cocktails and bicker over who was his favorite.

Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Public Wall Papers)
Mardi Gras in Mobile, Past & Present (Credit: Public Wall Papers)

In the afternoon, the Mistresses of Joe Cain lead the Joe Cain Procession, also known as the “People’s Parade,” featuring homemade floats made by groups of local friends, families, businesses, churches, and schools. Lasting all afternoon, it is the longest parade of Carnival, and it draws 150,000 participants and onlookers.

Altogether, 1.3 million people take part in Mobile’s Carnival festivities, making it the second-largest community festival in the country. If you’re looking for family-friendly fun with a long and storied history steeped in local traditions, leave that other Mardi Gras to the drunk frat boys and head to Mobile.

Credit: Mardi Gras in Mobile by L. Craig Roberts, The History Press, 2015

Worth Pondering…

In Mobile, Mardi Gras comes with the seasons, a natural phenomenon, an event to be anticipated and enjoyed, but really not considered to be anything unusual. One simply grows up knowing that Mardi Gras will come with the spring.

—Caldwell Delaney

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Top 7 Snowbird Hotspots

Cold winter weather is inevitable. But there is an escape.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Residents of the northern half of North America have long found respite from winter’s chill by fleeing to the southern half. As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds avoid winter’s bite, snow and blowing snow, and treacherous icy sidewalks and streets by migrating southward.

Northerners have a bounty of options for destinations. Many snowbirds are north-south creatures with Florida remaining a top spot for Easterners. Snowbirds from the Northwest settle in Arizona and southern California while those in the Mid-West are attracted to Texas. But these states aren’t alone in luring snowbirds, and even within each of these states there’s a bevy of choices to suit every traveler’s taste, interests, and budget.

While many snowbirds head directly south from their northern home and enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts, others cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude. Still other snowbirds follow an itinerary across the Sun Belt sampling a variety of regions and roosts.

Here’s a look at six places that snowbirds might call their winter home.

Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Rich in natural beauty and blessed with glorious weather, Palm Springs and the desert resort cities of the Coachella Valley is a snowbird and vacation paradise, the ultimate desert playground. Part of the Colorado Desert, the area is bounded by majestic mountain ranges—the San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Santa Rosa mountains close by, the little San Bernardino Mountains to the west and the Chocolate Mountains to the east. This desert oasis is also known as a golfing paradise.

Key West

The southernmost tip of Florida has been the end of the line for eccentrics, free spirits, and creative types for a century or more. Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams are among its former residents.

Yuma

Yuma’s wonderfully temperate winter climate makes this southwestern Arizona city a popular destination for snowbirds escaping their cold winter homes. Arizona’s warmest winter city and the sunniest year-round spot in the U.S., Yuma has an annual average of 4,133 hours of sunshine.

Yuma is a major growing region for lettuce, dates, broccoli, cabbage, and agricultural seeds. Some of the major attractions around the Yuma area include the historical Territorial Prison, the Yuma Crossing Historic Park, and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

green jay
Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center near Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Diego

San Diego is the last major city in southern California before the Mexican border. Cosmopolitan, and upscale, the area is blessed with a Goldilocks climate that’s never too hot nor too cold, a natural beauty on the Pacific Ocean and a deep restaurant and entertainment scene centered around the central and walkable Gaslamp Quarter.

Mission

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Mission offers some of the most spectacular locations for birding and butterfly watching on earth. The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center and the National Butterfly Center have created havens for the special species unique to the area, and invite birders and naturalists to their sites by offering viewing stations, watching towers, interpretive centers, and various programs.

St. Petersburg

Along with beautiful beaches, St. Petersburg attracts visitors with the Salvador Dali Museum, Fort De Soto Park, and the St. Petersburg Pier. Beach Drive features a variety of dining and shopping opportunities. Glimmering between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg is known for its warm weather and delightful breezes, and fun in the sun.

Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park near Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

There are numerous reasons to visit Tucson and the many other historic towns and sights around Southern Arizona. Some snowbirds come for a week or two. Others stay for the season.

Some of the major attractions include Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Desert), Catalina State Park, Kit Peak National Observatory, Tohono Chul Park, Pima Air and Space Museum, and Old Tucson Studios.

Worth Pondering…

When you are young, you dream of leaving your house on a set of wheels. When you retire you dream of living in a house on a set of wheels.

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Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

On the northern side of the Coachella Valley, nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio, and other desert cities.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas fault, and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Enjoy palm groves, picnic areas, a diverse trail system, and the rustic visitor center, the Palm House. Inside the historic building are trail maps as well as unique displays of the natural and historic features of the area.

The palm encountered in the oases within the Preserve is the California fan palm, or Washingtonia filifera. It is the only indigenous palm in California. The Washingtonia filifera has a very thick trunk and grows slowly to about 45 feet. Dead leaves hang vertically and form what is called a skirt around the trunk providing a place for various critters to live. Inflorescences, or fruit stalks, extend beyond the leaves and bear masses of tiny white to cream colored flowers.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the fall months, large clusters of small hard fruit hang from the tree. The palms may live 150 to 200 years.

No one knew just how significant a 6-inch lizard would be to conservation in Coachella Valley.

In 1980 a lizard small enough to fit in the palm of your hand brought the $19 billion Coachella Valley construction boom to a screeching halt.

When the lizard was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all development was jeopardized because it might illegally destroy habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.

A six-year conflict ensued as environmentalists battled developers over the fragile desert habitat. Finally, the Nature Conservancy was called in to resolve the bitter stalemate, and the result was a remarkable model of cooperation through which endangered species and economic development could co-exist.

The Conservancy proposed creating a nearly 14,000-acre preserve that would provide permanent protection for the little reptile and other desert species, while allowing developers to build elsewhere in the valley. It was a great experiment in cooperation that produced astonishing results. The creation of the Coachella Valley Preserve proved that through consensus, economic development, and species protection can indeed be compatible.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From easy to moderately difficult, from flat terrain to steep grades, hikes of all varieties are available. There are also several designated equestrian trails, but there are no bike or dog-friendly trails.

One hike that is a sure bet for all levels, is through varying desert terrain to the McCallum Grove, about a mile from the Palm House visitor’s center. There are about a dozen isolated palm groves within the preserve, the largest being McCallum Grove.

There’s more water here than anywhere else in the preserve and the overflow allows a large and diverse community to thrive, including tiny freshwater crayfish called red swamp crayfish, desert pupfish, and the occasional mallard duck making a brief stopover during its annual migration.

After leaving McCallum Grove keep hiking west on marked trails out to “moon country”. You will come to an overlook that provides you with great views of the entire area.
From there you can return to the visitor’s center, or continue via the 4.2-mile Moon Country Trail Loop, or the more advanced Moon Country Canyon Extension, which adds an additional 1.63 miles roundtrip.

Other delightful trails include Pushawalla Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Hidden Palms, which are all somewhat more strenuous hikes.

Coachella Valley Preserve is a great way to spend a day with its fantastic hiking trails, and beautiful vistas, but best of all it’s free and also easy to find. No matter how you choose to spend your time at Coachella Valley Preserve, you won’t be disappointed.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Palm Springs take Interstate 10 East to the Ramon Road exit. Turn left and follow Ramon Road and make a left turn on Thousand Palms Road. The entrance to the visitors center is located about two miles on the left.

Worth Pondering…

Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.
—Edward Abbey

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Snowbirds Give Back by Volunteering & Workcamping

As more seniors seek ways to enjoy the snowbird lifestyle many are turning to workcamping as a means of supplementing their pensions.

Workcampers are typically employed by RV parks and destination resorts. Pictured above is Coastal Georgia RV Resort near Brunswick and the Golden Isles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Workcampers are typically employed by RV parks and destination resorts. Pictured above is Coastal Georgia RV Resort near Brunswick and the Golden Isles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being a workcamper is not just a job, it’s a lifestyle, one that is actively pursued by some 80,000 workcampers throughout the United States.

Ask ten workcampers to define workamping and you are likely to hear ten different definitions. Technically speaking, however, “workamping” is the contraction of “work” and “camping” to describe a working arrangement for RVers which usually involves a place to camp as compensation for services rendered. Some workamping jobs also pay a salary.

Many workcampers are snowbirds who offset the cost of the snowbird lifestyle by exchanging their knowledge, skills, and labor for a free camping site and occasional minimum wage pay.

Workcampers are typically employed by RV parks and destination resorts, state parks, national parks, wildlife refuges and preserves, US Forest Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facilities, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and US Fish and Wildlife Service. They have found that RVers are reliable, trustworthy, happy to work short hours or in short temporary jobs, and will often come back year after year.

Volunteers jobs include trail maintenance, invasive plant removal, wildlife census, habitat rejuvenation, leading hikes and nature walks, and collecting camping fees.

Work-campers often find part time work at national wildlife refuges and state and national parks. Pictured above are sandhill cranes at  Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico), considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Workcampers often find part time work at national wildlife refuges and state and national parks. Pictured above are sandhill cranes at
Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge (New Mexico), considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some workcampers are on the road full-time, moving from place to place. Other workcampers stay long-term in one location or return to the same RV Park or public campground year after year.

Some camp hosts share responsibility for large campgrounds, while others host smaller campgrounds alone. Responsibilities may include greeting visitors, office duties, collecting fees, equipment rental, organizing schedules, cleaning campground bathrooms, security, groundskeeper, general maintenance, and whatever the campground owner needs an extra hand with.

It’s a perfect match when the campground owner, needing economical help, meets the RVer that enjoys people, the lifestyle, and staying active. If you have experience, it’s a plus, but it’s often not a requirement!

Part-time work-camping couples can have a great time: work a few hours a week in exchange for a free camp site and other perks that may include free utilities and laundry, cable TV and Wi-Fi, propane, etc. Sometimes workcampers will also receive a small salary or other compensation. Other times (especially for campground manager jobs for couples) it’s a full-time job complete with salary and additional benefits and perks. Campground owners have had so much success with using work-campers that they seek them out each busy season.

Commercial companies and other businesses have also found workcampers to be a great resource to help with busy periods during the year.

There are numerous other volunteer positions available to RVers in addition to camp hosting. Opportunities for volunteering are also available at amusement and theme parks, museums and art galleries, visitor information and welcome centers, and other outdoor recreation facilities and attractions.

Some camp hosts share responsibility for large campgrounds, while others host smaller campgrounds alone. Pictured above Bella Terra of Gulf Shores (Alabama), an upscale Class A motorhome resort community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Some camp hosts share responsibility for large campgrounds, while others host smaller campgrounds alone. Pictured above Bella Terra of Gulf Shores (Alabama), an upscale Class A motorhome resort community © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Often you can find a volunteer position just by inquiring at the location where you would like to volunteer, making it clear why you want to volunteer at that particular place. Numerous nonprofit agencies rely on snowbirds to play an important role during the winter months.

Seasonal volunteers account for about a third of the almost 1,200 people the Pinellas County (Florida) Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), places in about 110 nonprofit groups across the county. The places they work span the gamut of possibilities: visitor centers, interpretation/docents, museums, music and arts festivals, sporting events, theaters, schools, hospitals, extended-care facilities, and a host of other locations.

For snowbirds that love recreational activities and enjoy interacting with other people, volunteering and workcamping offer numerous opportunities for giving back to society.

If you choose to work while you play, enjoy your experience.

Worth Pondering…

The world is hugged by the faithful arms of volunteers.

—Terri Guillemets

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Trio of National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore America’s national parks in an RV.

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

Many of the busiest national parks experience a major drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter.

With snowbirds in mind, the following are my picks for a trio of national parks that are best to visit during winter.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases.

Here the lower Colorado Desert meets the higher Mojave Desert, forming granite monoliths, rugged mountains, and surreal geology that lures hikers, desert rats, and rock climbers from around the world.

The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the Mojave and Colorado deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. The Colorado Desert in the eastern section offers low desert formations and plant life, such as creosote bushes, spidery ocotillo, and jumping cholla cactus; the higher, cooler, and wetter Mojave in the western part is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Cold nights and warm days make for ideal treks into palm-lined oases. Or, bike the dirt roads and watch the climbers scale the rocky heights.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Zion National Park is getting more difficult to navigate with its single road into the canyon and a mandatory shuttle system during the busy months.

Exploring Zion Canyon, center of park activity, during the off-season gives one the flexibility that is impossible seven months of the year. From April through October, private cars are prohibited in the canyon, and visitors must use park shuttles. With 11,000 daily visitors, it’s hard to dispute the need for such restrictions. Still, it’s nice to be on our own—and free of crowds.

The main canyon in Zion was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that draw rock climbers who savor big walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonaran Desert.

The many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground, instead of growing like a massive trunk of the saguaro. It is a stately plant, with columns rising mostly like, well, the pipes of a church organ.

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. A mature organ-pipe cactus may be more than 100 years old. A mature saguaro can live to be more than 150. Foothill palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, triangle-leaf bursage, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape.

The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way dirt road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the park.

Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Quartzsite Plans GRAND Gathering 2015

The 2nd Annual GRAND Gathering, the World’s Largest Gathering of Grand Parents and Great-Grand Parents, is planned for Quartzsite from March 6 to 8.

Grand Gathering 2015-Sponsored by the Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA), Grand Gathering 2015 will be a celebration of grandparents, great grandparents, and family.

The Grand Gathering 2015 is themed “The Legacy” and features creating important information to pass on to family members. Live entertainment, special events, food, and vendors complement the event.

The Legacy offers free seminars, which take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day, to provide information about:

  • Creating a family tree
  • Family lore: Recording family stories to be related to current family members and future generations
  • Health History: Documenting the health conditions of various family members over time to facilitate informed, quality health care to younger family members
  • “The Five Wishes”:  Preparing key documentation for establishing individual health care directives.

ALL EVENTS will be at the Quartzsite Improvement Assoc. (QIA)

Friday, March 6, 2015

9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.: Health Fair sponsored by La Paz Regional Hospital and La Paz County Health Department

9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.: Legacy Activities (Family Tree, Family Lore Video, Family Health History, etc.)

11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.: Bar-B-Q Lunch

6:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.: QIA 50th Anniversary Commemoration and Dinner (the people and major events involved in creating Quartzsite’s first non-profit organization will be capsulized in an evening of good food and fun)

Saturday, March 7, 2015

8:00 a.m.-9:00 a.m.: Breakfast by QIA

9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.: Legacy Activities (Outside tents)

9:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: Craft Fair (Main Hall)

11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.: Bar-B-Q Lunch

7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m.: Quartzsite Senior Prom (Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra performs live; Bill Tole directing the orchestra and Nancy Knorr performing as a vocalist)

tgg-flyer-11-10-14Note: Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Tickets Available; RESERVED ADVANCE SEATING ONLY; less than 500 Seats Available (Phone: 928-927-6325; office is open 9 a.m.-Noon)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.: Legacy Activities (Outside tents)

11:00 a.m.-1:00 p.m.: QIA Brunch

1:30 p.m.-2:30 p.m.: Paul Winer Concert (Main Hall)

4:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.: Community Church Service (Main Hall)

The Quartzsite Improvement Association (QIA) is the sponsoring organization for the Grand Gathering 2015 – The Legacy.  For the last 50 years, funds have been raised through QIA-sponsored activities to support the town of Quartzsite and local organizations by providing equipment and donations toward identified needs.

What is Quartzsite?

Quartzsite is located in western Arizona, 17 miles east of the Colorado River on I-10.

Quartzsite has been a rockhounders’ paradise since the 1960s.

Today, it is also attracts over a million and a half visitors each winter who converge on this sleepy desert town of 1900 people in a wave of RVs during the months of January and February when over 2,000 vendors of rocks, gems, minerals, fossils, and everything else imaginable create one of the world’s largest open air flea markets.

Major gem and mineral shows as well as vendors of raw and handcrafted merchandise peddle their wares to snowbirds, collectors, and enthusiasts, making Quartzsite the place to be the first two months of each year.

Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Directed by Bill Tole in Quartzsite, March 7, 2015
Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra Directed by Bill Tole in Quartzsite, March 7, 2015

Worth Pondering…

Quartzsite = $400,000 diesel pusher motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for free camping.

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Magnet For Birds & Snowbirds

They may be blue in the North Country, but in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the jays have bright green backs, purple-blue heads with black trim down to the chest, and yellowish-green underparts.

green jay
Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits. The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley, as it is affectionately called, is an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Starting in the east and heading west, there’s Brownsville, Los Fresco, Rio Honda, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, and Mission.

The Valley is one of North America’s meccas for birders. And the green jay (pictured above) is the official bird of McAllen, the area’s largest city with 135,000 residents.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park—an area well known by both birders and the U.S. border patrol—is a great spot for bird watching.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Dozens of green jays along with the raucous chachalacas (pictured below), great kiskadee (pictured below), and Altamira orioles (pictured below) congregate around a series of feeders a short distance from the roadway at the first stop on a tram ride from the visitors center.

The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

This is bird watching made easy in what is touted as one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the United States.

From an observation tower in the park’s south end, visitors catch a glimpse of the meandering slow-flowing Rio Grande and neighboring Mexico. Sharing the park with birders and cyclists, are numerous border patrol vehicles, keeping watch along irrigation canals for people trying to enter the US illegally.

The green jay, along with some 500 other species that stay in the Rio Grande Valley year-round, is one of many head-turning attractions for the tens of thousands of Winter Texans who flock to The Valley annually.

Those who like to combine birding with spectacular architecture do what we did and head to the city-owned Quinta Mazatlan, one of the largest adobe-style mansions in the US.

There, staff relate stories of Jason Matthews, the adventurer who is said to have fought the Turks with Lawrence of Arabia and who built the estate, including a rooftop “hooch” made of sticks.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The place was nearly demolished after being damaged by a hurricane in 1967 but a local couple bought it for a song and restored it to the point it was honored for its splendor by the State of Texas.

At the end of the ’90s, the property was once again up for sale and the city outbid developers seeking to raze the mansion and develop the site. Now Quinta Mazatlan, like the state park, is one of the region’s most important birding areas and one of the most photographed spots in McAllen.

Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center sits on 40 acres within an Edinburg city park. Built on re-claimed farm fields adjacent to the city’s effluent and floodwater ponds, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands is a showcase for wildlife and a native habitat site set amidst an urban setting. Surrounding the Interpretive Center, the 3.5-acre native butterfly habitat offers some of the most diverse habitat in the region.

Waterfowl and shorebirds like the green kingfisher, black-bellied whistling duck, least grebe, and American avocet have a home here, and can be easily viewed from platforms overlooking peaceful freshwater lagoons. At least 13 species of ducks flock here in winter months.

Estero Llano Grande has a well-deserved reputation as a can’t-miss birding destination. At the geographic center of the World Birding Center network, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest.

The Altamira Oriole is a bird of Mexico and Central America whose range just reaches into southern Texas. The largest oriole occurring in the United States, it makes the longest nest of any North American bird: its woven basket-like nest can reach 25.5 inches in length. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Altamira Oriole is a bird of Mexico and Central America whose range just reaches into southern Texas. The largest oriole occurring in the United States, it makes the longest nest of any North American bird: its woven basket-like nest can reach 25.5 inches in length. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estero Llano Grande shares some of the same specialty birds as Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, plain chacalaca, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques, green kingfishers, grebes, coots, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, roseate spoonbill, and long-billed dowitcher.

The many area RV parks are packed with Winter Texans who have for decades discovered Texas as a more economical alternative to Florida.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Escapees Expand Mail Services

Since 1985, Escapees Mail Forwarding Service has been assisting full-time and part-time RVers with all their mail forwarding needs.  As a licensed commercial mail-receiving agent, Escapees provides the largest, most economical service for RVers in the nation.

EscapeesMailServiceLogo2Livingston, Texas-based Escapees Club announced that its mail service has raised the bar again.

The new Escapees: Home satellite centers provide Escapees Mail Service members with a whole new level of flexibility, according to a news release.

This service is specifically designed for full-time RVers interested in maintaining a physical address in Florida, Texas, or South Dakota.

Escapees: Home offers Florida and South Dakota as home-base options and perfectly meshes those two satellite centers with Escapees’ sophisticated mail distribution center in Livingston, Texas.

“Whether you move for personal reasons, or state regulations create undue hardships, Escapees: Home satellite service allows you to change your domicile without alerting your entire list of correspondents,” said Teresa Moore, chief operations officer.

All Escapees Mail Service members receive their very own private mailbox number that corresponds with a Texas (Rainbow Drive) street “mailing address” for general correspondence. Those who select Texas as their domicile may use this as their physical address as well. This same private mailbox number will be used for Escapees: Home mail.

escapees logoEscapees Mail Service members who select the Escapees: Home option, may use one of the “physical addresses” the club offers for domicile purposes and have their state-specific mail (vehicle registration, driver license, and voter registration) sent there. Mail received at our satellite centers in Florida or South Dakota will be forwarded to the Texas facility for processing based on each member’s specific instructions. There is no additional charge for this service. Members pay postage only.

Details

Escapees Mail Service

Since 1985, Escapees Mail Forwarding Service has been assisting full-time and part-time RVers with all their mail forwarding needs.

Phone: (936) 327-8873 or (888) 757-2582 (toll free)

Website: www.escapees.com/mailservice

Escapees RV Club

Escapees-discount-highlightAddress: 100 Rainbow Drive, Livingston, TX 77351

Phone: (936) 327-8873 or (888) 757-2582 (toll free)

Website: www.escapees.com

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra

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Settling Into Your Snowbird Roost

Once you’ve decided on the region you’d like to visit, consider the RV park where you’d like to while away the winter months.

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Many of these parks welcome snowbirds with open arms and even schedule special events or social mixers for their winter guests. Many parks also offer amenities that will keep you active through winter months.

Some RV parks even offer classes for snowbirds eager to learn a new skill or hobby. Come spring, you can impress your friends back home with the things you’ve learned and the photos you’ve brought back with you.

The choice is yours, but remember: You’re on wheels, so take advantage and go exploring. Wherever you land, you’ll find thriving snowbird parks packed with amenities and an abundance of on-site activities.

Joining the RV Snowbird Community

While some snowbirds spend the winter months traveling from one warm-weather location to another, others enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts that cultivate a sense of community among seasonal residents.

Many snowbird parks provide resort amenities designed for long-term guests, including a Welcome Center, a well-appointed clubhouse and activity building, free cable or satellite TV and high-speed Internet at site, large swimming pools and heated spas, and fully-appointed fitness center.

Mardi Gras parade
A Mardi Gras parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Many of the larger RV resorts have multiple halls with breakout rooms for activities,

classes, and special events. Computer rooms, game rooms with pool tables, tennis and shuffleboard courts, a pickle ball facility, and an arts and craft room frequented by quilters and sewing enthusiasts are also available for winter residents.

Other amenities may include a nine- or 18-hole golf course, a fenced-in dog park, stocked lake, onsite hiking and biking trails, croquet courts, movie theatre, large ballrooms, dining options, and a variety of activities. Some seniors-oriented RV parks have literally hundreds of organized activities to keeps seasoned snowbirds involved and active.

Everything from fun-filled activities to luxurious spa treatments, from sewing and quilting classes to exercise and meditation classes, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are offered.

Water aerobics, personal trainers, and professional entertainment including live musical concerts, comedy shows, and celebrity impersonators may also be offered at some winter resorts. Many 55+ RV parks also have a variety of arts and crafts classes, from painting to woodworking and lapidary where you’ll learn the art of jewelry making by cutting, grinding, and setting stones. Others may teach silver smithing and wire wrapping. Some parks offer gourd painting, Swedish blanket making, water color painting, woodcarving, pottery, and ceramics.

pet parade
A pet parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

In some resorts many activities center around dancing, dance classes, and dance workshops (from pre-beginners to Advance II to Phase VI)—square dance, line dance, round dance, ball room dance, mainstream dance, pattern dance, tap dance, 2-step, waltz, cha-cha, Latin dance, Zumba, Jitterbug, Western Swing, Country Western dance, and clogging.

Pet amenities include off-leash dog areas, walking areas, and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.

The resorts also offer periodic seminars on health related topics as well as potlucks, wine tastings, and organized tours to casinos and special events. Other 55+ resorts set aside an open area of the park where guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs including kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and radishes.

Best of all, the active 55+ resorts are located in some of the most popular snowbird destinations in the Sun Belt, such as the rugged desert southwest, the tropical Gulf, and stunning Atlantic Coast.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when we hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our northern home, something in our genes starts pulling our inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the RV with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

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2 National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Touring America’s national parks in an RV can be a transcendent experience.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore the great outdoors. Although some parks may have limited access to certain areas due to ice and a heavy accumulation of snow, many of the unique natural environments found in America’s national parks are best appreciated during the winter months.

Many of the most famous national parks experience a drastic drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions. In fact, you may just have the park mostly to yourself.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter. This is a perfect time to visit one or more national parks.

With snowbirds and Winter Texans in mind, the following are my picks for the two best national parks to visit this winter.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley. The very name repels. So do the superlatives: the hottest (134 degrees in 1913), driest (less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall), and lowest (282 feet below sea level) of the U.S. national parks. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.

Its forbidding name, suggests a vast stretch of nothingness. Boring. Bleak. Empty. Right?

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes.
Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead wrong. Despite its inhospitable name, Death Valley National Park can, in fact, be quite welcoming, especially during the cooler winter months.

With average temperatures that hover around 120 degrees during the summertime, Death Valley National Park is best visited during the winter months. The typically harsh environment of Death Valley is much more inviting during the winter, with temperatures in the low 70s during the day and the high 30s during the night.

The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley offers everything from snow-covered mountain peaks to sand dunes. It’s a spot unique on Earth, with high, snow-frosted 11,000-foot peaks towering over a valley that drops 282 feet below sea-level.

There are whimsical salt formations, reflective pools, and hidden side canyons. There are date palms, historic borax mining equipment, and volcanic craters.

Take a tour through Scotty’s Castle, one man’s dream retreat, or drive to Dante’s View as the sun leaves the valley. It’s a big park, with lots to see, and it’s a lot easier when the temperatures are in two, not three, digits.

Unlike many other parks, Death Valley’s peak season is during the winter and early spring. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least-crowded. It is advisable to make camping reservations in advance.

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain.

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round.

Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two, so bring extra layers.

Rio Grande Village is the center of visitor activity during the winter months. Great scenery, warm temperatures, abundant wildlife, and full visitor services make this a must-see location for any Big Bend outing. Rio Grande Village has an NPS campground and visitor center, and a concession-operated camper store, laundry, and shower facility. The store also runs the Rio Grande Village RV Campground, the only campground with full hook-ups.

Ringed by massive cliffs and amazing views, the Chisos Basin is a year-round focal point. Numerous trails begin in the basin, and range from short walks to longer backcountry hikes. The paved, 0.3 mile Window View Trail provides an excellent place to view the mountain peaks or watch an evening sunset.

A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a number of services in the Basin including the lodge, restaurant, and camper store. A 60-site campground is located in the lower portion of the developed area.

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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