Hopewell Furnace: Early American Iron Plantation

In the woods of southeastern Pennsylvania, a community of men, women, and children worked to supply iron for the growing nation during the 18th and 19th centuries. They created a village called Hopewell that was built around an iron-making furnace.

Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is the best preserved iron plantation in North America.

Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smoke houses, blacksmith shop, office store, charcoal house, and a schoolhouse.

From 1771 to 1883, Hopewell Furnace manufactured iron goods to fill the demands of growing eastern cities like Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore. While the most profitable items were stoves, the furnace cast many other objects such as kettles, machinery, grates, and cannon shot and shells for patriot forces during the Revolutionary War.

As technology progressed, the furnace eventually became outdated. In 1883, it closed, and the furnace workers and their families left to make their living elsewhere. They left behind their homes, work buildings, tools, and other evidence of the iron-making community that once thrived.

The 15-minute introductory film shown in the visitors center focuses on many topics including how Ironmaster Mark Bird (a colonel and quartermaster in the Continental Army) supported Washington’s forces with cannon, shot, shell, and even flour.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The 15-minute introductory film shown in the visitors center focuses on many topics including how Ironmaster Mark Bird (a colonel and quartermaster in the Continental Army) supported Washington’s forces with cannon, shot, shell, and even flour.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the remains of Hopewell Furnace represent an important time in America’s maturation as a nation. The production of iron in hundreds of small furnaces like Hopewell provided the key ingredient in America’s industrial revolution, enabling the United States to become an economic and technological leader worldwide.

Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation that used slave and free labor.

The 15-minute introductory film focuses on many topics including how Ironmaster Mark Bird (a colonel and quartermaster in the Continental Army) supported Washington’s forces with cannon, shot, shell, and even flour. The furnace produced 115 big guns for the Continental Navy. Other items once produced at the site included plowshares, pots, stoves, and scale weights.

Hopewell Furnace consists of 14 restored structures in the core historic area, 52 features on the National Register of Historic Places, and a total of 848 mostly wooded acres. The park’s museum contains nearly 300,000 artifacts and archival items related to the site’s history.

Hopewell Furnace consists of 14 restored structures in the core historic area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hopewell Furnace consists of 14 restored structures in the core historic area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The impressive blast furnace and 30-foot water wheel, ironmaster’s mansion, workers’ quarters, a living farm, charcoal maker’s hut (otherwise known as a collier’s hut), and other structures illustrate the historic infrastructure typical of the charcoal-iron making process.

What today’s visitors will not find are the noise, heat, and pollution that were ever-present in the community during the heyday of iron production.

Hopewell Furnace lies at the center of 848-acre French Creek State Park and consists of 14 restored structures as well as the paths, fields, and meadows of the one-time working village. The buildings include a blast furnace, the ironmaster’s mansion, and auxiliary structures.

Today, the site is an interesting visit for the hikers, backpackers, and campers who are spending time at French Creek State Park. Bird-watchers and nature photographers as well as history buffs enjoy the tours, and picnics are encouraged.

Did You Know?

Cold blast charcoal-fired iron furnaces like Hopewell Furnace were in operation in Pennsylvania as early as 1720. Between 1832 and 1840, 32 such furnaces were built in the state. The U.S. census of 1840 recorded 212 charcoal-fired furnaces operating in Pennsylvania that year.

The park's museum contains nearly 300,000 artifacts and archival items related to the site's history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park’s museum contains nearly 300,000 artifacts and archival items related to the site’s history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site

Directions: 5 miles south of Birdsboro, PA, off of Route 345

Address: 2 Mark Bird Lane, Elverson, PA 19520

Phone: (610) 582-8773

Website: www.nps.gov/hofu

Entrance Fees: Free Admittance

Worth Pondering…

Travel does what good novelists also do to the life of everyday, placing it like a picture in a frame or a gem in its setting, so that the intrinsic qualities are made more clear. Travel does this with the very stuff that everyday life is made of, giving to it the sharp contour and meaning of art.

—Freya Stark

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Relive & Explore The Past In Public Lands Of New Mexico

Relive the Wild West, explore exotic cultures, return to the dawn of recorded history, and travel back to prehistoric times.

New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glance into the future exploring the solar system and far beyond. And enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birding, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the public lands of the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico offers unlimited of unique opportunities.

In an earlier post Vogel Talks RVing discussed the unlimited opportunities available for outdoor recreation and camping at New Mexico’s 35 state parks—24 having ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes.

When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, consider coordinating visits to state parks, state museums, state monuments, and national parks in the area.

To get started, check out the following state museums and historical sites.

Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner: A unique new museum designed by Navajo architect David Sloan—shaped like a hogan and a tepee—and an interpretive trail, provide information about the tragic history of Fort Sumner and Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation.

Coronado Historic Site
Coronado Historic Site

Coronado Historic Site: In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado—with 500 soldiers and 2,000 Indian allies—entered the Rio Grande valley near this site. Searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold, he instead found a dozen villages inhabited by prosperous native farmers.

El Camino Real Historic Trail Site: Journey along the historic Camino Real, the Royal Road of the Interior Lands. This 1,500-mile historic trade route that extends from Mexico City to Ohkay Owingeh, is one of the oldest trails in the US and, for more than a century, one of the longest.

Fort Selden Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fort Selden Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Selden Historic Site: Fort Selden was established in 1865 in an effort to bring peace to the south central region of present day New Mexico. Built on the banks of the Rio Grande, this adobe fort protected settlers and travelers in the Mesilla Valley from desperados and Apache Indians.

Fort Stanton Historic Site: Fort Stanton is situated on 240 acres and surrounded by 1,300 acres of undeveloped BLM land in south-central New Mexico. There are 88 buildings on this historic site, some dating back to 1855.

Jemez National Historic Landmark: A short drive from Albuquerque and Bernalillo, the Jemez National Historic Landmark is one of the most beautiful historic sites in the Southwest. It includes the stone ruins of a 500-year-old village and the San José de los Jemez church dating to 1621-22.

Lincoln Historic Site: A town made famous by one of the most violent periods in New Mexico history. See the Old Courthouse with exhibits detailing the Lincoln County War. Walk in the footsteps of Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and other characters of the Wild West.

Lincoln Historic Site
Lincoln Historic Site

New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors: Originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain’s seat of government for what is today the American Southwest, the Palace of the Governors chronicles the history of Santa Fe, as well as New Mexico and the region. This adobe structure, now the state’s history museum, was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and an American Treasure in 1999.

New Mexico Museum of Space History: A visit to the Museum of Space History is a trip into the origins of our nation’s space exploration program. The Museum is composed of The Museum of Space History, The International Space Hall of Fame, The John P. Stapp Air & Space Park, Daisy Track, The Clyde W. Tombaugh IMAX Theater, and Astronaut Memorial Garden.

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum: Located in Las Cruces, the Museum tells the story of agriculture from 800 years ago when Native Americans planted corn, squash, and beans to today’s agribusinesses and family farms. Explore the museum, both inside—where you can see art and other exhibits and outside—where you can meet cattle and other livestock face to face.

Fort Stanton Historic Site
Fort Stanton Historic Site

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture: A premier repository of Native art and material culture, the Museum tells the stories of the people of the Southwest from pre-history through contemporary art. Located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the museum shares its location with the other museums of Museum Hill: Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and Museum of International Folk Art.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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Explore The Diversity Of New Mexico State Parks

From rugged mountaintops to grassy plains to lowland desert, New Mexico is indeed a true Land of Enchantment.

Elephant Butte State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Elephant Butte State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing six of the world’s seven life zones, the state’s landscapes exude diversity. Offering unlimited of unique opportunities, the Land of Enchantment attracts millions of visitors who seek out its scenic beauty and countless outdoor recreation activities.

Enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the state parks of the Land of Enchantment.

From June to August 2014, New Mexico State Parks hosted 1,740,799 visitors. Elephant Butte State Park had 395,522 visitors during that time. And since the water is up, state park officials expect considerably more this summer. The water level of the state’s largest and most popular lake is up over 45 feet from the 2013 low point.

For those looking for a less crowded getaway, the Land of Enchantment boasts 35 state parks and 24 of those parks have ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes. When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, consider coordinating visits to state museums and monuments and national parks in the area.

To get started, check out the following state parks.

Leasburg Dam State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Leasburg Dam State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottomless Lakes State Park: Located just 14 miles southeast of Roswell, Bottomless Lakes State Park is your place for bottomless fun. Enjoy non-motorized boating in your kayak or canoe, camp, fish, picnic, swim, hike, go birding or even scuba dive! The unique lakes at this park are sinkholes, ranging from 17 to 90 feet deep. The greenish-blue color created by aquatic plants is what gives the lakes the illusion of great depth.

City of Rocks State Park: A kid pleaser that looks like a sci-fi movie set, the “city” is the result of erosion of rocks deposited after a mega volcanic eruption 34.9 million years ago. Located between Silver City and Deming, City of Rocks offers a visitor center and observatory, camp sites, hiking trails, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, birding, stargazing, picnic areas, modern restrooms with hot showers, and a desert botanical garden.

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte State Park: New Mexico’s largest state park offers restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds, and camping with developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs and boating facilities that can accommodate kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Caballo Lake State Park: Framed against the Caballo Mountains, the lake boasts an array of water recreation, such as boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, and fishing. The park has 170 campsites, many offering utility hookups for RVs.

Leasburg Dam State Park: A short 25 minute drive north of Las Cruces, this park offers peace and relaxation, canoeing and kayaking, hiking and birding, an observatory that offers night sky programs, and small and big rig RV camping.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park: On the Rio Grande near Mesilla, this quiet park has self-guided nature trails, ranger-guided tours, and a visitor center that’s a great place for information about the area and its wildlife.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park: Near Alamogordo, this park offers views of the Sacramento Mountains, a historic ranch house, nature trails, camping, and an oasis of pools of water under the cottonwood trees of Dog Canyon.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pancho Villa State Park: Located between the border communities of Columbus and Palomas, Mexico, this unique park and campground offers a chance to explore both of now-friendly little towns and learn about their unique roles in history. The park’s exhibit hall has a vintage aircraft and displays that bring to life the days of Camp Furlong, the Pancho Villa Raid, and a fascinating chapter in military and Borderland history. The campground, particularly beautiful when cactuses are in bloom, has utility hookups for RVs and a playground for youngsters.

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park: Located in Albuquerque on the Rio Grande flyway, the park offers excellent birdwatching opportunities throughout the year. There are indoor and outdoor wildlife viewing areas overlooking ponds, and trail access to the Rio Grande.

Rockhound State Park: Campgrounds, trails, wildflowers, the scenic Little Florida Mountains and, of course, the geological specimens that attract rockhounds from around the world, are stellar attractions for this park near Deming.

Santa Rosa Lake State Park: This reservoir on the plains of eastern New Mexico offers fishing, boating, camping, and hiking, as well as abundant bird watching opportunities. Equestrians are welcome at the Los Tanos Campground.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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Most Popular US Campgrounds

Campgrounds and RV parks are great places to enjoy hiking, bikingboating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Triple Blaze infographic of the most popular campground in each of the United States.
Triple Blaze infographic of the most popular campground in each of the United States.

The most popular campgrounds and RV parks in the United States and Canada are usually located in areas of natural beauty or popular attractions.

According to the bloggers at Triple Blaze these campgrounds are often located at or near national parks or state parks.

Based on reviews by campers the most popular campground in California is Yosemite National Park while Glacier National Park and Bandelier National Park are most popular for campers in Montana and New Mexico respectively.

Every year, America’s nearly 8,000 state parks see more than 720 million visitors—more than two-and-a-half times the number of all visits to national parks, which include marquee names such as Zion, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

State parks are number one in camping popularity in numerous states including:

  • Washington: Crow Butte State Park
  • Utah: Jordanelle State Park
  • Louisiana: Fontainebleau State Park
  • Georgia: Red Top Mountain State Park
  • South Carolina: Edisto Beach State Park
  • Indiana: Indian Lake State Park
  • Michigan: Ludington State Park
  • Iowa: Lake Mcbride State Park
  • Kansas: Ponoma State Park
  • Delaware: Delaware Seashore State Park
A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While these camping sites and other campgrounds listed in the Triple Blaze infographic are deemed by many campers as the most popular in their respective state, numerous other special RV parks and resorts are situated in some of the most attractive destinations in the US and Canada. These campgrounds with a view offer outstanding opportunities for outdoor recreation including birdinghiking, biking, fishing, and boating.

Vogel Talks RVing selected the following top RV parks from parks personally visited.

Moab is known as Utah’s adventure capital, offering activities such as biking the Slickrock Trail, off-road routes, rafting down the Colorado River, and hiking to Delicate Arch, Utah’s famous icon. Enjoy the breathtaking natural surroundings of Moab at OK RV Park. The park provides easy access to Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park, and Dead Horse Point State Park. From scenic parks to adventure, Moab offers something for everyone.

A+ Motel & RV Park is centrally located in Cajun Country near Calcasieu “Big” Lake and other great fishing, hunting, and birding destinations and the Creole Nature Trail All American Road.

JGW RV Park, Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
JGW RV Park, Redding, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Family-owned JGW RV Park welcomes RVers to enjoy its 32-acre facility nestled among the native black oak trees along the scenic Sacramento River. The park has a grassy, natural setting for viewing birds and wildlife and for strolling along the riverbank. You can also fish for steelhead, trout, and salmon.

A wonderland of scenic beauty and outdoor recreation, the Redding area offers unique experiences that include glistening lakes and world-class rivers to scenic drives and backcountry roads. Vibrant attractions include Lassen Volcanic National Park, Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway, Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, Shasta Lake, and the Sundial Bridge, a Redding icon.

Wake up to a breathtaking sunrise; wind up the day with a spectacular sunset at the Van Horn KOA, set in a beautiful desert valley surrounded by mountains. This country setting, landscaped with native plants that attract wildlife, is filled with the sounds of birds. Visit Guadalupe Mountains and Carlsbad Caverns national parks, Fort Davis and the town of Marfa, whose “Ghost Lights” have defied explanation since 1883. The full-service KOA Cafe can deliver a Texas dinner to your campsite.

Van Horn KOA, Van Horn, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Van Horn KOA, Van Horn, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Enjoy the Old West in and around Angel Lake RV Park in Wells, Nevada. Some of the least known, pristine outdoor recreation areas in the West is all easily accessible. Deer, antelope, and other big game populate the surrounding back country. Anglers will find nearby lakes, reservoirs, creeks, and streams much to their liking. Angel Lake, tucked into the East Humboldt mountain range, is a particular favorite for its fish and striking 8,400 foot scenery.

Worth Pondering…

May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.

—Edward Abbey

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Some Days Are Diamond: The Hallelujah Diamond

Susie Clark and her husband spent days hunting diamonds at Crater of Diamonds State Park in Murfreesboro, Arkansas, and on the last day she said a prayer.

The 3.69-carat Hallelujah Diamond alongside an Arkansas commemorative quarter
The 3.69-carat Hallelujah Diamond alongside an Arkansas commemorative quarter

“Are you going to bless me and let me find a diamond today?” Clark, from Evening Shade, Arkansas prayed.

Clark has named the teardrop-shaped rock “the Hallelujah Diamond” because it was an answer to her prayer.

Susie Clark first visited the Crater of Diamonds State Park 33 years ago with her mother and grandmother from Germany. A return visit with her husband was highlighted on Clark’s last day of diamond hunting, on Thursday, April 23, by a beautiful, 3.69-carat white diamond that she found near the South Washing Pavilion of the diamond search area.

Shortly after her prayer, Clark found the teardrop-shaped gem on the surface of the field. She saw the diamond sticking out of a furrow ridge in the plowed dirt. She knew it was a diamond, and said to herself, “This is a diamond. And it’s a big one!”

At this time, she plans to keep her gem.

According to Park Interpreter Waymon Cox, the large diamond is about the size of a pinto bean. “The gem is frosted white with a pearlescent, metallic shine. This is the largest diamond found so far this year. And it’s the largest one found since April 16, 2014, when a 6.19-carat white diamond, named the Limitless Diamond, was found at the park,” Cox said.

Susie Clark holding her 3.69-carat Hallelujah Diamond
Susie Clark holding her 3.69-carat Hallelujah Diamond

“Mrs. Clark’s diamond is the 122nd diamond found at the park this year.”

Cox noted that the park has experienced a lot of rain over the past couple of weeks, plus the park maintenance staff plowed the search field earlier this week.

“This regular endeavor loosens the diamond-bearing soil which, along with rain erosion, brings more diamonds to the surface and helps park visitors’ chances of finding them. With all the rain we’ve been seeing, along with this week’s plowing, there’s a good chance more diamonds will be found on the surface in the days to come.”

He stressed that conditions on the search field are perfect right now for finding diamonds on the surface of the field.

“Diamonds are a bit heavy for their size, and they lack static electricity, so rainfall slides the dirt off diamonds that are on the surface of the search area leaving them exposed. And when the sun comes out, they’ll sparkle and be noticed.”

The search area at the Crater of Diamonds is a 37 ½-acre plowed field that is the eroded surface of the eight largest diamond-bearing deposit in the world, in surface area. It is the world’s only diamond-producing site open to the public. The park’s policy is finder-keepers. What park visitors find is theirs to keep.

The park staff provides free identification and registration of diamonds. Park interpretive programs and exhibits explain the site’s geology and history, and offer tips on recognizing diamonds in the rough.

In total, over 75,000 diamonds have been unearthed at Arkansas’s diamond site since the first diamonds found in 1906 by John Huddleston, the farmer who at that time owned the land, long before the site became an Arkansas state park in 1972. The largest diamond ever discovered in the U.S. was unearthed here in 1924 during an early mining operation. Named the Uncle Sam, this white diamond with a pink cast weighed 40.23 carats.

Notable diamonds found by park visitors since the state park was established at the site include the Amarillo Starlight, a 16.37-carat white diamond discovered in 1975 which ranks as the largest diamond ever found by a park visitor. In 2011, a visitor from Colorado found an 8.66-carat white diamond she named the Illusion Diamond, which is the third-largest gem registered here since the Crater of Diamonds State Park was established in 1972.

Susie Clark's white gem named the Hallelujah Diamond
Susie Clark’s white gem named the Hallelujah Diamond

Another notable diamond from the Crater of Diamonds that has received much national attention is the 1.09-carat, D-flawless Strawn-Wagner Diamond. Discovered in 1990 by Shirley Strawn of Murfreesboro, this white gem weighed 3.03 carats in the rough before being cut to perfection in 1997 by the renowned diamond firm Lazare Kaplan International of New York. The gem is the most perfect diamond ever certified in the laboratory of the American Gem Society. It is on display in a special exhibit in the Crater of Diamonds State Park visitor center.

Another gem from the Crater of Diamonds is the flawless 4.25-carat Kahn Canary diamond that was discovered in 1977. This uncut, triangular-shape gem has been on exhibit at many cities around the U.S. and overseas. It was featured in an illustrious jewelry exhibition in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1997 that included precious stones from throughout the world including the Kremlin collection, the Vatican, Cartier, and Christies.

Over 40 different rocks and minerals are unearthed at the Crater making it a rockhound’s delight. In addition to diamonds, semi-precious gems and minerals, including amethyst, garnet, peridot, jasper, agate, calcite, barite, and quartz, are found in the park’s search area.

Crater of Diamonds State Park is on Arkansas 301 at Murfreesboro. It is one of the 52 state parks administered by the State Parks Division of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism.

Worth Pondering…
Angels are like diamonds. They can’t be made, you have to find them. Each one is unique.

—Jaclyn Smith

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5 Great State Parks

In an earlier post I detailed My 5 Favorite State Parks. With nearly 8,000 state park in America, there are hundreds of state parks worthy of a visit.

A short loop nature trails at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A short loop nature trail at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are 5 Great State Parks.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is flanked by rugged mountain on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites.

Varying from stark dry desert mountains and canyons to lush palm-tree-lined oases, the park contains more than 100 miles of trails for hikers, backpackers, and mountain bikers, 500 miles of dirt roads to be explored by bicycle or motor vehicle, and steep paved roads for road cyclists who love a challenge.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.
Dead Horse Point State Park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parking lot at Dead Horse Point State Park, 30 miles from Moab, is a few steps from one of the most dramatic vistas in the desert Southwest—looking down 1,000 feet to the top of Dead Horse Mesa, which itself towers a thousand feet above the Colorado River doing a 180-degree turn and wrapping around its sandstone base.

From the overlook, canyon erosion may be viewed on a grand scale. This erosion process has taken approximately 150 million years. Much of it is caused by the river slicing down into the earth’s crust as land is forced upward. These powerful forces are still sculpting the fantastic shapes of the precipitous bluffs and towering spires.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas

Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is one of the most popular sites in Texas for several reasons—the scenery is unusual, the summit is easily reached and has fine views over the countryside, different habitats harbor varied wildflowers, cacti and other plants, and there are good hiking trails and rock climbing routes.

There are two main trails. The steep and heavily traveled Summit Trail leads directly to the summit of the main rock, while the Loop Trail makes a four-mile trek around the entire complex of domes.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study.
Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palo Duro State Park, Texas

At 120 miles long, 20 miles wide in some places, and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the country, behind the Grand Canyon. The Technicolor walls here make for high-desert scenery more commonly seen in southern Utah.

You can explore the 20,000-acre state park by hiking or horseback-riding, or even take a leisurely drive across the canyon floor. There’s tent, equestrian, RV camping, and three stone cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (since modernized), set on the rim with sweeping view of the canyon below.

From the end of May until mid-August, more than 60 actors, singers, and dancers take the stage at the park’s amphitheatre to perform Texas, a rousing musical that depicts the settling of the Texas Panhandle.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, Hunting Island State Park encompasses 5,000 acres of pristine sandy beach, maritime forest, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, and saltwater marsh. It is classified as a true semitropical island. Hunting Island, the most popular state park in South Carolina, attracts more than a million visitors annually and was recently named a top 10 beach Trip Advisor.

Hunting Island possesses the best developed slash pine-palmetto forest in the state and is one of the best sites to observe South Carolina’s state tree, the Cabbage Palmetto, in its native habitat.

Hunting Island State Park is only 29 miles off Interstate 95, the main corridor between Florida and the Northeast, approximately halfway between Savannah and Charleston.

Worth Pondering…

Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.

—Roy Goodman

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Report: More Camp Sites With Full Hookups Required

A recent review and analysis of Ohio State Parks recommends the creation of more camp sites with full hookups for recreational vehicles and the closing of 29 less profitable cabins.

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

The new performance audit by state Auditor Dave Yost indicates that the changes could generate more than $3.3 million in average annual returns and $3.8 million in one-time cost avoidance. This state park audit was one of a series conducted at the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).

“Smarter planning and capital investment works just as well in the woods as it does in the city,” Yost said in a statement.

“Ohio has an opportunity to enhance the outdoor experience in our beautiful state parks for many years to come.”

Department of Natural Resources Director Jim Zehringer said, “We at ODNR appreciate the growing desire among Ohioans to have the opportunity to enjoy the state’s amazing open spaces and we are eager to provide them with the facilities that will enhance their experience while they are there.”

Ohio State Parks has four categories of overnight accommodations: campgrounds, cabins, “getaways”, and lodges. Campgrounds provide paved slabs for RVs; picnic areas; options for electric, water, and sewer hookups; and a variety of shared site amenities such as restrooms, shower houses, and retail convenience stores.

Holmes County  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Holmes County © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most cabins are approximately 900 square feet with two bedrooms, a living room, and kitchen area. Cabins are generally heated and air conditioned and are equipped with furniture, linens, and cookware.

Getaways encompass a variety of structures from teepees to primitive cabins, and their inventory comprises a small percentage of the overall accommodation inventory at any given park.

Lodges are hotel operations which are managed by third-party operators.

Campgrounds and cabins make up the majority of Parks’ self-managed inventory as well as the self-generated revenue; 98.6 percent and 96.2 percent, respectively.

Concerns have been raised regarding an insufficient number of full hook-up campsites and an aged cabin inventory that is no longer sufficiently able to attract customers and meet their needs in an efficient and effective manner.

Ohio State Parks supplies 207 full hook-up campsites specifically targeted toward high-end RVs—the fastest growing segment within RV camping nationally—a relatively small number in comparison to ownership levels.

Despite strong demand and relatively high operating performance, only 12 park locations offer full hook-up sites, with a median of a dozen at each of those parks. By comparison electric sites are more widespread, with 48 park locations offering a median inventory of 98 sites. As such, Parks may have an opportunity to meet customer demand for full hook-up sites by increasing not only the total number of full hook-up sites, but also the park locations offering them.

Ohio State Capitol, Colunbus  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ohio State Capitol, Colunbus © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ohio State Parks plans to install new full hook-up campsites as upgrades to its existing stock of electric campsites. By using existing electrical service and concrete pads wherever possible, costs and construction complexity can be reduced.

Campgrounds sites with full hook-ups are occupied a median of 40 percent of the time. Camp sites with electricity are occupied about 18 percent, and non-electric sites less than 6 percent. The park agency already has earmarked $15 million for cabin improvements—each will cost an estimated $132,100 to renovation—and $10 million for campgrounds improvements from capital money approved last year. A portion of these funds will be used for the addition of full hook-up sites and the renovation of cabins at several locations.

The full report is here.

Details

Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR)

Website: www.ohiodnr.gov

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

Ohio State Parks

The Division of Parks was created as a division of ODNR in 1949 with the statutory obligation to create, supervise, operate, and maintain a system of state parks and to promote their use by the public. Through land acquisition and transfer, the park system has grown from the original 30 parks to 74 state parks in 59 counties with over 174,000 acres of land and water resources.

Facilities include eight resort lodges, two dining lodges, six golf courses, more than 9,000 campsites in 56 campgrounds, 518 cottages, 36 visitor/nature centers, 80 swimming beaches and 18 swimming pools, 188 boat ramps and 7,583 boat docks, 463 picnic areas, and 1,167 miles of trails.

Website: www.parks.ohiodnr.gov

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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My 5 Favorite State Parks

Every year, America’s nearly 8,000 state parks see more than 720 million visitors—more than two-and-a-half times the number of all visits to national parks, which include marquee names such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

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

These state parks tend to be smaller than national parks, and relatively modest in comparison, but they form the backbone of the park system and enjoy fierce loyalty from families who visit year after year.

Chances are you’re not too far from a state parks. Visit a state park today.

Everyone has lists and seldom do any two lists agree. But lists can be interesting fodder for discussion, debate, and sometimes agreement.

Here are My 5 Favorite State Parks.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas

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. Witness hawk migrations and enjoy bird walks and natural history tours at this key migratory stopover.

You can spend a whole day exploring bird life along a one-mile walking trail through sugar hackberry, Rio Grande ash, and Texas ebony; and the six-mile paved inner and outer loops. Or take the tram or rent a bicycle to meander around the loops.

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina
Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

One of the special features at Catalina State Park (among many!) is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas
The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its blood-red sandstone cliffs and weird rock formations, there’s an other-worldly feeling at Valley of Fire State Park. The terrain at Valley of Fire so resembles Mars that the Mars scenes of Total Recall were almost all filmed here.

Popular activities include camping, picnicking, photography, hiking among the intriguing rock formations, and soaking in the fascinating story of the area’s geological evolution. Park features include Fire Canyon/Silica Dome, Rainbow Vista, White Domes, and Beehives. Valley of Fire State Park is 55 miles—and a few light-years—northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Consisting of 6,150 acres with two miles of sugar white sand beaches and three fresh water lakes, Gulf State Park has a modern full-service campground, cabins, cottages, back country trails, and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

The park also features an interactive nature center, nationally recognized scenic nature trail, new tennis courts, beautiful beach pavilion, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course, and a 900-acre lake for fishing in the picnic area on Lake Shelby.

Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota
With its pine-clad mountains and striking stone spires giving way in the south to gently rolling grasslands, the 71,000-acre Custer State Park occupies one of the prettiest corners of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

Drive on the windy Needles Highway in the north, through narrow tunnels carved through the rock, to mirror-like Sylvan Lake, the “crown jewel.” To the south, the 18-mile Wildlife Loop is the place to find pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, and the famous “begging donkeys”.

Custer State Park touts itself as one of the few remaining wild sanctuaries in the country. Elk, mountain goats and nearly 1,300 buffalo roam this 71,000-acre park, set in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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What’s Your Favorite Arizona Destination?

Could you choose just one?

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I tried, but found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination. Since every attraction has its own reason for making the list, it’s really like trying to compare apples to oranges.

I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Even then, I had to settle on leaving the list in no particular order. Yes, I know, that’s a cop-out, but maybe being drawn to varied outdoor adventures and activities explains why I’m so attracted to the RV lifestyle.

Arizona’s most visited attraction is, of course, Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park

No other canyon can compare with the most visited Arizona destination. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Visible from space, this massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona & Red Rock Country

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders. Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations in the US due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece.

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops, and spiritual-energy vortexes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Cactus & Saguaro National Park

Native only to the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus is practically synonymous with Arizona. Large and slow growing, saguaros can reach up to 70 feet tall and may not sprout an arm until they’re 100 years old.

Tucson is flanked on its western and eastern edges by Saguaro National Park, showcasing the giant cacti. Hiking is popular in both divisions of the park, but you can also drive the leisurely loop roads if you want to see the cactus forests from the comfort of your car. The park’s western division sprawls over the Tucson Mountains. In the eastern division, trails lead up from the saguaros into pine forests on the 8,000-foot summits.

Wildflowers & Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The precise prerequisites for a banner wildflower season—an early “triggering” rain, steady precipitation, and mild temperatures—make it about as reliable as a Vegas slot machine.

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak gets a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state. The ephemeral Mexican goldpoppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. The more reliable brittlebush resembles a shrub sprouting a bouquet of mini-sunflowers. Your best bet for both is March.

Other good places to enjoy wildflowers include Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Apache Trail, Maricopa County Parks, Saguaro and Organ Pipe national parks.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take desert creatures such as prairie dogs and Gila monsters and put them in a nearly natural outdoor setting. Add a dose of natural history and you have the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place.

The Desert Museum is unique among zoological parks for its focus on interpreting the complete natural history of a single region, the Sonoran Desert. The museum has two miles of paths covering 21 acres of desert and features hundreds of creature species and more than 1,200 varieties of plants.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

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Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts

Spring wildflowers, autumn colors, year-round birding, two miles of scenic walking trails, a picnic area shaded by Argentine mesquite trees are all available at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 323 acres, this park is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden, founded in 1925 by mining magnate and philanthropist Col. William Boyce Thompson.

In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter. It was then, that he determined to use his wealth to improve the use of plant resources. The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Col. Thompson’s goal was to bring together plants from arid lands so that scientists and researchers could study, experiment, research, and investigate uses and attributes that made the plants unique. He also wanted the arboretum to be open to the public. By the time he died in 1930, the arboretum had already gained a reputation that extended far beyond the borders of Arizona.

Thompson’s home, the 8,000-square-foot Picket Post House, is immediately adjacent to the arboretum and is easily viewed from the far end of the main trail. It was in private hands for years, but in 2008, the state purchased it with Heritage Funds and it is now under park management.

The Arboretum features plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooperatively managed by the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum sits at the base of the Picketpost Mountains and features a collection of 3,200 different desert plants in a unique series of botanical gardens, and a 1.5-mile main loop walking trail that roughly parallels the normally dry Silver King Wash.

The main trail begins at the visitor center and quickly enters the colorful Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden, with a collection of plants designed to bloom throughout the year to attract Arizona’s diverse hummingbird and butterfly species.

A 2.5-acre Demonstration Garden shows various plants in functional landscapes; an area complete with patios, walls, shade structures, vine arbors, walkways, and rockwork.

Several trails branch off from the first part of the Main Trail, so you don’t have to walk far to see the highlights, and much of the trail system is wheelchair-accessible.

The historic Smith Interpretive Center, a short walk down the main trail contains botanical exhibits and displays, and two display greenhouses feature cacti and other succulents that might not otherwise survive the winter cold at this 2,400-foot elevation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shorter trails cut through three desert environments. Find native medicinal and edible plants in the Sonoran Desert; plants from desert landscapes in western Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, in the Chihuahua Desert; and flora from the Cuyo, Monte, and Chaco regions of Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay in the South American Desert.

Look for the bizarre boojum trees from Baja California. The two specimens were brought here from Mexico in the 1920s and are the tallest ones on display in the U.S. The tall conical plants are related to the native ocotillo.

The Arboretum’s Australian Walkabout, Eucalyptus forest, South African collection, and herb garden offers more specific collections, colorful wildflowers, and varied cacti.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 270 species of birds have been recorded, including Gambel’s quail, Canyon wren, and black-throated sparrows, making it a prime spot for birders. A checklist of birds is available upon request. Ayer Lake and Queen Creek on the Main Trail are good places to watch for wildlife; and you may even see endangered species such as the Gila topminnow and desert pupfish.

Queen Creek cuts through the Arboretum’s bottomlands, and supports the water-loving trees that take root there, including Fremont cottonwood, Arizona ash, black willow, and Arizona black walnut. Take a look at the spiny branched ocotillo, the green-stemmed Palo Verde, the thorny acacias, the low-growing mesquite, and the golden-flowered agaves.

Visit the Arboretum and have your horizons expanded as to the value and use of plants and trees from arid lands for food, shelter, and livelihood, both in the past and the present.

Details

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Elevation: 2,400 feet

Location: U.S. 60 near mile marker 223

Directions: From junction Highway 79 and Highway 60, 12 miles east on Highway 60

Address: 37615 U.S. Hwy 60, Superior, AZ 85273

Phone: (520) 689-2811

Entrance Fees: $10; children ages 5-12, $5; age 4 and under, free

Websites: www.azstateparks.com and www.ag.arizona.edu

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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