Beat The Heat At Balmorhea

Come August, Texas is a scorcher.

A 3-acre reconstructed ciénega or desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 3-acre reconstructed ciénega or desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But how to deal with the summer’s skyrocking temperatures?

Monstrous glasses of iced tea, squeezed with lemon. Frequent dips in the nearest swimming pool or swimming hole. Screened porches with ceiling fans which keep the mosquitoes and other buzzing nasties at bay while you listen to country music and search for fireflies.

Oh, yes—and a trip to West Texas, where you can escape the sun’s blaze in the most unlikely of places.

No, the mercury has not gone to my head, and, no I’m not confused brought on by excessive rays; nor am I crazy in the throes of a heat stroke. Just bear with me…

Balmorhea State Park, with the crystalline waters of San Solomon Springs hover between 72 and 76 degrees year round, is a most pleasant place to hang out in the anguish of a summer heat wave—or any other season, for that matter. Artesian springs like this gem in the Chihuahuan Desert are rare in the extreme. As an added bonus, the stars emerge big and bright and in the nearby Davis Mountains the temperatures dip into the 60s each night.

Kick back in Mother Nature’s cool West Texas backyard as you dip in these clear, blue-green waters, with tiny fish nipping harmlessly at you as you float.

No Chihuahuan Desert mirage, Balmorhea State Park’s aquamarine, spring-fed pool is nature’s answer to Texas’ summer sun. Set against the deep blue West Texas sky in the yucca-dotted foothills of the Davis Mountains, it feels a whole lot like paradise.

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Swim, scuba dive, or just relax under the trees at this historic park in arid West Texas.

San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To call Balmorhea State Park a popular dive site is an understatement. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, which is the park’s low season, each weekend as many as 10 different dive operations find the friendly waters of San Solomon Springs ideal for certifying divers from entry level (Open Water) to specialties such as Rescue, Photography, Videography, Naturalist, or Night. Each of them brings groups of 10 to 15 dive students.

Call it oasis or paradise; scuba divers call it fun!

Balmorhea State Park, a 49-acre oasis of shimmering water, cottonwood trees, and adobe cottages was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks. All of the CCC buildings are constructed in a Spanish Colonial style with stucco exteriors and tile roofs.

San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks by the CCC. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks by the CCC. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park actually lies in Toyahvale, four miles south west of Balmorea proper.

Balhormea State Park’s enormous 1.75-acre pool, billed as the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, has a huge, underground aquifer system to thank for its clear and cool water. Rain falling on the nearby Davis Mountains seeps underground then flows through porous layers of limestone and emerges through at least nine springs in the middle of the pool at the rate of some 22 to 28 million gallons a day.

San Solomon Springs has provided water for travelers for thousands of years. Artifacts indicate Indians used the spring extensively before white men came to the area. In 1849, the springs were called Mescalero Springs for the Mescalero Apache Indians who watered their horses along its banks. The first settlers were Mexican farmers who used the water for their crops and hand-dug the first irrigation canals.

The park’s name comes from four men’s surnames:  E.D. Balcom, H.R. Morrow, Joe Rhea, and John Rhea: Bal-mor-hea. These men formed an irrigation company in the area in the early 20th century.

The springs and surrounding wetlands are considered a ciénega, or desert wetland. Much of the original desert ecosystem was altered years ago. Today, though, a three-acre, re-created wetlands at the park demonstrates the variety of plant and animal life that once flourished here. Rustling cattails and bulrushes harbor birds, butterflies, tiny pupfish, and other aquatic life.

Camping facilities include restrooms with showers and campsites with a shade shelter, water, electricity, and even cable TV hookups. 34 camp sites are available; six with water, 16 with water and electricity, and 12 with water, electricity, and cable TVs. Daily camping fees range from $11 to $17 plus park entrance fee of $7 per adult.

Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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Vogel State Park On My Mind

Sharing the same name I knew that fate would one day find us within driving distance of Vogel State Park and when that day arrived, the park did not disappoint.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we entered Vogel State Park from US Highways 19/129, 22-acre Lake Trahlyta opened to the right, a fitting memorial to the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) that both dammed the lake and built the park. Georgia’s poet laureate, Bryon Herbert Reece, was born in a cabin on the land where Lake Trahlyta now sits.

In 1929, Augustus Vogel and Fred Vogel Jr. donated nearly 259 acres to the state, much of it still encompassed within the 233-acres within Vogel State Park. At the start of the 20th century the Vogels set up a lumber mill on the site of present-day state park to harvest oak trees, a major source of tannic acid for their leather company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Vogel State Park is in the heart of north Georgia Blue Ridge Mountains, 11 miles south of Blairsville.

One of Georgia’s oldest and most beloved state parks, Vogel is located at the base of Blood Mountain in the Chattahoochee National Forest. Driving from the south, visitors pass through Neel Gap, a beautiful mountain pass near Brasstown Bald, the highest point in Georgia.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel State Park has been an escape of families for generations. Returning soldiers following World War II found Vogel an ideal vacation spot to renew family relationships. Grandchildren of these early visitors have continued the tradition. Vogel offers a slower pace in these fast-paced times.

At 2,500 feet elevation Vogel State Park maintains a cool evening temperature even in the dog days of summer, making this a great stop for camping. The park provide a range of overnight accommodations including 56 campsites with electric service suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length, 22 tent/pop-up campsites, 14 tent-only walk-in campsites, and 34 cottages. All accommodations are available for reservation.

A lake for swimming and boating, and miles of hiking trails adjacent to the famous Appalachian Trail offer something for everyone. The park’s 22-acre lake is open to non-motorized boats, and during summer, visitors can cool off at the mountain-view beach.

The park offers 17 miles of hiking trails from easy to strenuous. Hikers can choose from a variety of trails, including the popular 4-mile Bear Hair Gap loop, an easy lake loop that leads to Trahlyta Falls, and the challenging 13-mile Coosa Backcountry Trail.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

An annual wildflower pilgrimage is a favorite time for those who want to see a variety of spring wildflowers. This mid-April event provides an ideal opportunity for wildflower lovers to enjoy a casual walk with a naturalist and search for the hidden beauty of the forest floor.

Constructed by the CCC during the depression years of the 1930s, Vogel’s park rustic architecture harkens back to a simpler time. The CCC history runs deep through the park. A museum recognizing the efforts of the greatest generation of natural resource workers.

The park hosts an annual CCC reunion of men who actually worked as President Roosevelt’s Tree Army soldiers. They have tales to tell of planting trees, fighting fire, building dams and parks, and other experiences that some say were the best days of their lives. This program is held in May. Everyone is welcome to attend this fascinating event.

Wildlife viewing at Vogel is a favorite pastime. There are deer, black bear, birds, and smaller creatures, but fishing is one of the more popular activities. The park hosts an annual Kids Fishing Rodeo the second Saturday of June. Youngsters 12 and under have the opportunity to fish for rainbow trout in Wolf Creek. Wildlife Resources Fisheries stock Wolf Creek with hundreds of trout which pretty much guarantees a catch for each child present.

Every Saturday evening during the summer, musicians and groups play on the theater over the lake. What better way to experience a summer evening than with a cool breeze on your face and beautiful music.

Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vogel State Park On My Mind © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Appalachian Mountains wouldn’t have the character they do, were it not for the music that has emanated from the hollows. September 12 (2015) is when Vogel hosts its 12th annual Mountain Music Festival. This all-day event has bluegrass, country, gospel, and mountain musicians playing on the lake shore. Crafters will also display their handmade wares in much the same way they would have done in an earlier time. Concessions will be provided by Vogel volunteers.

Vogel is fun year round but particularly popular during the fall when the Blue Ridge Mountains transform into a rolling blanket of red, yellow, and gold leaves.

Worth Pondering…

Georgia On My Mind

Georgia, Georgia, the whole day through

Just an old sweet song keeps Georgia on my mind.

Georgia, Georgia, a song of you

Comes as sweet and clear as moonlight through the pines

—words by Stuart Gorrell and music by Hoagy Carmichael

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America’s Hometown: Plymouth Rock, Mayflower & Plimoth Plantation

Plymouth, Massachusetts, is home to one of the great dramas in the founding of America.

Step onto a full-scale reproduction of the tall ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Step onto a full-scale reproduction of the tall ship that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth in 1620. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As the landing location for the Mayflower’s Pilgrims in 1620, and their subsequent settlement, it has earned the nickname America’s Hometown. The Pilgrims also celebrated what is now known as the first Thanksgiving with their Wampanoag neighbors here in 1621.

Situated about 40 miles south of Boston along Massachusetts’ South Shore, Plymouth unfolds along a scenic harbor of blue waters and picturesque boats. The town is walkable, so you can park along the waterfront and head to its most famous landmark: Plymouth Rock.

The legendary granite rock, known as the ‘Landing Place of the Pilgrims’, rests in the sand along the waterfront. Being a rock, it’s not the most interactive attraction, but the bold neoclassical portico enshrining it gives weight to its hallowed significance. A guide usually stands nearby answering questions, and recounting the rock’s adventures and how it was identified in 1741 as the landing place.

After Plymouth Rock, you can visit two nearby sites: Cole’s Hill and Mayflower II. Cole’s Hill, located behind Plymouth Rock and across Water Street, reveals a scenic harbor view from which you can observe Mayflower II, as well as the comings and goings of today’s yachts and fishing boats. On the hill you’ll find a statue of Massasoit, the Wampanoag Indian chief who befriended the Pilgrims, plus a sarcophagus containing recovered bones of the settlers who died (half of the original party) during the first winter.

Then, just north of Plymouth Rock, you’ll find the dockside home of Mayflower II, a full-scale reproduction of the original. It was built in Brixham, England, and sailed to Plymouth in 1957 as part of a transatlantic goodwill project.

Take a step back in history at the 1627 English Village in Plimoth Plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Take a step back in history at the 1627 English Village in Plimoth Plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The adjacent dockside museum offers exhibits about the voyages of both the Mayflowers, but the real fascination begins onboard the ship. There, you can walk the oak-timbered half-deck, smell the salt air, and imagine the settlers approaching land and nearing their dream of religious freedom. While exploring the ship, you’ll also meet guides who offer a wealth of knowledge about the voyage and those traveling onboard.

After disembarking Mayflower II, delve into history by traveling 3 miles south of town to visit Plimoth Plantation. Since it’s an historical highlight of any trip to Plymouth, you’ll want to arrive early enough to enjoy several hours.

Plimoth Plantation is a living historic museum dedicated to telling the history of Plymouth Colony from the perspective of both the Pilgrims and the Native Wampanoag people. The museum is a Smithsonian Institution Affiliate that includes the Wampanoag Homesite, 1627 English village, 17th-century Craft Center, Plimoth Bread Company, and Plimoth Grist Mill.

Costumed role-players tell you about their perilous journey across the Atlantic, while modern guides speak about the fascinating history of Mayflower and Mayflower II. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Costumed role-players tell you about their perilous journey across the Atlantic, while modern guides speak about the fascinating history of Mayflower and Mayflower II. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Visitor Center offers an indoor gallery exhibit, Cinema, gift shop, and the Patuxet Café serving delicious New England fare.

At the homesite along the Eel River, you’ll find the recreated home and garden of a 17th-century Wampanoag family. You’ll meet native Americans, including members of today’s Wampanoag tribe, who answer questions and demonstrate traditional skills such as preparing a meal, making a canoe, or building a home.

From the homesite, you can stroll along the Eel River boardwalk to the English Village rising over Cape Cod Bay. For the many costumed interpreters mingling around the re-created Pilgrim Village, the year is 1627—seven years after the first arrival of settlers.

Exploring the village is like traveling back in time. You’ll wander along paths with colony ‘residents’ who enter and exit their thatched-roof homes and pursue their chores. Although they’re focused on their lives, feel free to approach them ; they’ll be glad to answer questions. Speaking in 17th century English dialects, they convey not only the histories of the people they re-enact but also their viewpoints and concerns.

It may seem awkward to converse with someone from the 17th century—to ask how a colonist feels about the neighboring Wampanoag, for instance—but after a few questions you might get hooked on the experience, gaining much through the interaction.

Take a step back in history at the 1627 English Village in Plimoth Plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Take a step back in history at the 1627 English Village in Plimoth Plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Like most people, I was immediately struck by how small the ship seemed—particularly in the ‘tween decks, where the passengers were confined. How could 102 people, including three pregnant mothers, have survived more than ten weeks in a space this size?

—Nathaniel Philbrick, “At Sea with the Pilgrims: Writing About the Voyage of the Mayflower”, Plimoth Life, 2007

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Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More

Edisto Island, a sea island in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, lies only about an hour south of bustling Charleston as the pelican flies.

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But Edisto, part of a chain of more than 100 tidal and barrier islands along the Atlantic coast between the mouths of the Santee River in South Carolina and St. Johns River in Florida. is a world apart.

This is a rustic world of majestic live oaks that are thickly draped with light-as-air beards of Spanish moss, salt marshes, meandering creeks, and historic plantations.

RVers and other visitors to Edisto Island choose to come here—they don’t come by accident. And so it was with us.

Using New Green Acres RV Park in Walterboro as our home base, we spent an enjoyable week exploring the Lowcountry. Known as The Front Porch of the Low Country, Walterboro, county seat of Colleton County, is situated just off of I-95 and is a popular stop for RVers.

It was pleasant 75-degree day in early December that we toured Edisto Island: Edisto Island State Park, the beach, and driving/walking tour of Botany Bay Plantation.

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Edisto River, named for the Edisto Indians (original inhabitants of the area), is the longest and largest river system completely within the state. It rises from springs 260 miles north, splits into North and South branches to flow around diamond-shaped Edisto Island (which is actually made up of numerous islands) and into the Atlantic.

ACE Basin, an acronym for the Ashepoo, Combahee, and South Edisto rivers that arc through it, spans 350,000 acres, one of the largest undeveloped estuaries on the East Coast. These many acres of diverse habitat include protected uplands and wetlands, tidal marshes, barrier islands and beaches, and a host of wildlife.

The North and South Edisto branches flow into the ocean a little more than a dozen miles apart and roughly half way between the two is Botany Bay and Botany Bay Wildlife Management Area, a near-wilderness that makes up nearly a fourth of Edisto Island.

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Edisto River is one of the most unique waterways in the world. It is the longest undammed or free flowing “black water” river, and takes up twelve counties in the state. It is the longest and the largest river completely within the borders of South Carolina.
The most interesting part of the Edisto River comes to fruition near Edisto Island. The consistent yet peaceful current makes it perfect for wildlife and for paddling enthusiasts. Floating the Edisto River will show you banks filled with ancient live oaks, Spanish moss, and many forms of wildlife.

Our first stop, Edisto Island State Park, includes an interpretive center and two campgrounds that offer 112 standard sites with water and electric hookups—ocean-side and near the salt marsh. 49 of the standard campsites offer 20/30/50 amp electrical service. Several sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet. Each campground is convenient to restrooms with hot showers. Reservations are recommended.

Following our island drive with stops at several locations along the extensive beach, we toured Botany Bay Plantation, a South Carolina state historic site and wildlife management area, located off SC Highway 174 about 8.5 miles south of the McKinley Washington Bridge. You’ll follow the dirt road about 2 miles to near where the road dead-ends and turn left at the gate and into the property.

Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Edisto Island: History, Pure Bliss & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pure bliss. That’s the only way to describe Botany Bay Plantation.

The 4,630-acre plantation on Edisto Island was a gift from the Margaret Pepper family. It was given to the state in 1977 by Mr. Pepper, but was only able to be used after his wife passed away so she would have the opportunity to continue her years on the land she loved.
The land itself is full of nature’s rich beauty—from the sunflower fields to the salt marsh and fresh water ponds to the Spanish moss draped oaks to the miles of private beach; it is emblematic of Lowcountry’s unique environment and appeal.

The clearly marked driving tour showcases the features of the plantation including the archaeological structures of historical significance. Take a walk down any of the trails and absorb the unique beauty of this unspoiled land.

Touring Edisto Island and Botany Bay Plantation provided us with a chance to step back in time and fall in love with the beauty of the South Carolina Lowcountry.

Worth Pondering…

There is a peculiar pleasure in riding out into the unknown. A pleasure which no second journey on the same trail ever affords.
—Edith Durham

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Visiting LBJ Ranch

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean.

The Texas White House is open for public tours including the President's Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons' bedroom suites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Texas White House is open for public tours including the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

East of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed complex of Lyndon B. Johnson historical parks. Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park has two distinct visitor areas separated by 14 miles.

The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Operated jointly by Texas Parks and Wildlife and the National Park Service, the LBJ Ranch in Stonewall and the Boyhood Home and Johnston Settlement in Johnson City constitute a remarkable historic preservation.

In Johnson City you will find the National Park Visitor Center, Boyhood Home in which President Johnson spent his childhood, and the Johnson Settlement where the President’s grandparents first settled in the 1860s.

Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where LBJ learned to read. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where LBJ learned to read. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Between the day he became president in November 1963, and the day he left the White House five years later, Lyndon Johnson returned to the Hill Country 74 times.

President Johnson had a deep attachment for place and heritage. The LBJ Ranch was where he was born, lived, died, and was buried. In 1972, the Johnsons donated their home and 690 acres for a national park. After the President’s death in 1973 at age 64, Lady Bird Johnson continued to live at the Ranch part time until her death in 2007.

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

Hanger on LBJ Ranh with Air Force One. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hanger on LBJ Ranh with Air Force One. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Obtain a free driving permit at the LBJ State Park and Historic Site Visitor Center in Stonewall. You will also receive a ranch map indicating the tour route. No Permits are given out after 4:00 p.m. A CD containing narrative audio for the tour is available for purchase in the bookstore and comes with a bonus DVD filled with videos and photos.

Then, just like LBJ did over 50 years ago in his white Lincoln Continental, drive through the main gate—but not as fast as the heavy-footed president liked to speed through himself.

After leaving the visitor center, continue to Sauer-Beckmann Living History Farm, where visitors can see how the Johnson family’s German-Texan neighbors lived.

After touring Sauer-Beckmann head for Ranch Road 1 along the Pedernales River. The right guardhouse on the left, once manned by uniformed Secret Service agents, marks the previous low-water crossing on the ranch.

As part of the self-guided Ranch Tour, you may stop at the Texas White House for a ranger-guided tour.

You’ll see Junction School, the one-room schoolhouse where Johnson learned to read; the reconstructed LBJ birthplace, and the Johnson family cemetery, here generations of the Johnson family are buried, including the president. You’ll also see the ranch house, known during the Johnson presidency as the “Texas White House”.

This is MY ranch and I do as I please! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This is MY ranch and I do as I please! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Once you arrive at the Texas White House, obtain a ticket for a house tour at the Airplane Hangar. House tour fee for ages 18 and older is $3.00.

The Texas White House was officially opened to the public on August 27, 2008. The entire ground floor is available for public tours. Rooms on the tour include the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. The majority of rooms have been restored to their appearance during the presidential years (1963-1968) while the bedroom suites retain their appearance at the time of President and Mrs. Johnson’s deaths.

A few miles east is Johnson City, named after LBJ’s family. Here, there’s more fine historic preservation, including Johnson’s boyhood home and the Johnson settlement, featuring several 1800s barns and cabins, an old windmill, and a water tank and cooler house.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

There’s something different about this country from any other part of the nation.

The climate is generally pleasant.

The sun is generally bright.

The air seems to be always clean.

And the water is pure.

The moons are a little fuller here.

The stars are a little brighter.

And I don’t how to describe the feelings other than I guess we all search at times for serenity.

And it’s serene here.

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

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Junction: Texas Hill Country Hospitality Starts Here

Watch some birds, take a leisurely stroll, tube down the river, enjoy a sunset—and relax.

Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Junction boasts first-class outdoor recreation, a big-rig friendly RV park with true Texas hospitality, and all the mouth-watering Texas BBQ you can eat.

I expected the fresh air and open sky. After all, Junction is located on the western edge of the Texas Hill Country, elevation ranging around 2,000 feet. The abundance of outdoor activities was no surprise, either—the town is named for the junction of the north and south forks of the Llano River. Junction is ideal for fishing, tubing, and related activities, and there are scores of low-traffic roads for biking and a sprawling state park and wildlife management area checkered with hiking and biking trails.

What I hadn’t planned on was great Texas BBQ. Junction is a good place to work up an appetite, and, as it turns out, to satisfy it, too.

Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we exited I-10 (Exit 465) for Junction North Llano River RV Park my heart skipped a beat as it jumped for joy! There to the back of a large parking lot was a huge BBQ pit surrounded by many, many, many cords of firewood piled higher than a man’s head like fortress walls. And an outdoor area with picnic tables under the spread of an enormous oak.

The food gods were really smiling on me. Heading west to Arizona with limited time and no hope of seeking out Texas BBQ, I lucked upon Cooper’s. Yes, Cooper’s Bar-B-Q & Grill is a happy accident food-wise on any road trip.

The Cooper family opened its original barbecue joint in Mason in the early 1950s, and Cooper sons later took the tradition to Llano—a location eventually sold outside the family—and here. Roy and Sheila Cooper, their son Mark and daughter-in-law Kim and their children all work at the restaurant, which has been in its current location for 16 years.

Texas Hill Country is the Lone Star State’s prime outdoor destination. But it’s not mountaintops and dramatic views that make this a vacation mecca—it’s water. More than 800 freshwater springs percolate to the surface in crystalline rivers and lakes, and the spot where the North and South Llano rivers meet spawned the town of Junction in 1876. One of the town’s first civic projects was a dam for power and irrigation, and Junction eventually became the commercial hub of Kimble County, named for an Alamo defender, George Kimble. But that has never meant many more than 2,500 people enjoying life in the county seat. Canoeing, kayaking, and tubing are the most popular ways to pass a day in Junction these days.

The dawn of another day along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The dawn of another day along the North Llano River at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rolling hills and open spaces still define Junction. Wild turkeys also are a big part of the landscape. The largest concentration of Rio Grande Turkeys in the American Southwest gather in South Llano River State Park south of town. The gregarious birds winter in large flocks around the cottonwood riparian areas growing by the river. Turkeys can be spotted year-round, especially along the scrubby brush and open grasslands of the Fawn Trail that loops up open slopes for three miles.

The 524-acre park and adjacent 2,155-acre wildlife management area were donated to the state by cattle rancher Walter Buck Jr. Two miles of park front the river, but most folks congregate around the bridge near the entrance.

Activities include camping, picnicking, canoeing, tubing, swimming, fishing, hiking, mountain biking, bird-watching, and nature study.

The park offers approximately 20 miles of hiking/biking trails—15 of them prime for mountain biking—58 campsites with water and 30-amp electric service, six walk-in tent sites, and five hike-in primitive campsites.

Rest at one of the park’s top-notch bird blinds. These comfy shelters overlook water and feeding stations frequented by birds pretty much all day, although morning and evening are prime times. Common sightings are flycatchers, swallows, wrens, warblers, hawks, and hummingbirds.

Big-rig friendly North Llano River RV Park at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big-rig friendly North Llano River RV Park at Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Next door, the Walter Buck State Wildlife Area is a destination to hike, watch birds, and polish wildlife photography skills.

Planning a Visit? Experience true Texas hospitality with welcoming smiles at Junction North Llano River RV Park. Sit back, relax, and enjoy a clean, spacious site nestled in a natural pecan grove along the banks of the North Llano River. Big rig sites over 80-feet in length are available; spacious full hookup sites with 50/30-amp electric service, free cable, and Wi-Fi.

There’s something for everyone whether you’re staying for one night, a week, or more—water sports, birding, fishing, hunting, scenic hill country drives, restaurants, golf, shopping, and good Texas BBQ! We’d be back in a Texas minute!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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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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