Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude

Big Bend National Park is well off the beaten path…and well worth exploring.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Welcome to a national park where you can actually revel in its silence and solitude. Remote, huge, and austere, this national park along the Rio Grande River is an uncrowded gem. One of the largest parks in the country, with more than 800,000 acres, Big Bend is also one of the least visited—thanks to, you guessed it, its remote location.

Big Bend National Park is a land of paradox, beauty, and above all, vastness. Even today, only three paved roads run south into Big Bend, but from those roads the view can astound.

The Rio Grande River squiggles its course across the harsh desert landscape, carving through limestone and shale. The river separates much of the state of Texas from the country of Mexico, and within the big bend formed by the river, sits a region that will appeal to RVers and other travelers who believe the best things in life require a little effort.

The nearest interstate highway access is 1-10 to the north; from Fort Stockton southbound on US 385 it is 125 miles to park headquarters at Panther Junction. Nearest town to the park is Marathon, 70 miles from Panther Junction.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In other words, Big Bend visitors must plan their trips. You can see and enjoy plenty on a day visit, but you won’t see nearly enough, and you will have burned a lot of fuel along the way. Big Bend rangers recommend three days, and depending on what you want to do, a week or more may be a better choice.

Prior to visiting the park, we spent several enjoyable days in Big Bend country at Marathon in a charming little place, Marathon Motel & RV Park.

The next day we headed for the heart of Big Bend down US Highway 385 making a stop at the visitor center at Panther Junction for orientation, maps, brochures, and hiking information. Before setting out on greater quests we, strolled Panther Path and checked out the vegetation found in the Chihuahuan Desert—yucas, lechuguillas, creosote brushes, and bunch grasses.

We then continued to the Rio Grande Village on the Rio Grande River to secure a full hookup site for the duration of our stay.

Big Bend is vast deserts, mountains, canyons and THE river—the Rio Grande—and along the river are several hot springs.

But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend National Park was officially created in 1944, but evidence of human habitation of the Big Bend area dates back roughly 12,000 years. The Mescalero Apache and Comanche tribes were on the long list of those who came to the area.

Each season is unique. Summer temperatures can soar to 120 degrees while mild winters allow RVers to explore fascinating geology. The spring months of March, April, and May bring especially good birdwatching with more than 450 species having been counted within the park—more than in any other national park.

There’s not a lot of water here. An average of just 18 inches falls annually in the heights of the Chisos Mountains that tower nearly 8,000 feet into the sky. And if you think that’s not a lot, these mountains get a deluge when compared to the rest of the park. It is a land that is lucky to see 10 inches of rain in a year. This is an arid landscape.

While touring the park in our dinghy we stopped in the Chisos Basin, a valley within a mountainous ring, and one of the park’s most popular areas, with a visitor center, RV park (not suitable for big rigs), and a lodge.

We take a short hike for a clear view of the Window Overlook, or V-Window, as it’s called since its mountainsides form a “V” shape with views of distant mountain ranges.

Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park: Splendor & Solitude © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Big Bend is filled with surprises, scenic beauty, native plants, wild­life, fantastic outdoor recreation, and the opportunity to enjoy them all in a rugged, majestic setting. A visit to this incredible place will provide wonderful memories for years to come.

If you’ve never been to Big Bend, take your RV, take your time, and go. Go. Just go!

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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7 Family Summer Destinations in Southwestern Utah

In previous stories on Vogel Talks RVing, 10 Family Summer Destinations in Moab and 6 Family Summer Destinations in Southeast Utah (Bluff) we covered locations in southeastern Utah that are beautiful, fun, and kid-friendly.

Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon National Park along the Navajo Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this list we cover destinations in southwestern Utah that lie west of the Colorado River. Like the previous locations, these are easily accessible and enjoyable for all sorts of families and centered around towns that offer inexpensive camping.

No matter which of these amazing places you choose to visit, don’t miss getting to know some of the local residents, guides, rangers, and fellow travelers around you. You’ll gain wonderful insight and friendships that are sure to make your vacation even more memorable.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Visitor Center and Campground

The Bryce Canyon Visitor Center has some interesting educational displays on the formation of Bryce and the area’s wildlife.

Ruby’s Inn Campground offers 250 shady and open campsites for RVs. All sites have electric and water, or full hook-ups as well as a large pull-through area for the driver’s ease and comfort.

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Trail

Bryce Canyon from the rim trail may not offer a lot of solitude but the views are breathtaking.
You can do a great job of imitating a professional photographer at dusk or dawn from either Sunset or Sunrise Points respectively. Now that is some logical location naming.

Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cedar Breaks National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park – Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

One of the best ways to get the most of Bryce Canyon is to get down into the rocks by combining the first leg of the Navajo Loop Trail and the Queens Garden Trail. This relatively moderate three-mile combination loop starts at Sunset Point and ends at Sunrise Point, which are quite close to each other. Whatever you do, take the time to walk down to Wall Street. The trail down may look intimidating but the number of switchbacks makes it pretty easy.

Cedar Breaks National Monument 

At an elevation of 10,350 feet above sea level, Cedar Breaks National Monument is the highest national park in Utah. This park is renowned for its spectacularly colored cliffs, bright blue skies, and breathtaking 100-mile views of the Great Basin.

Park facilities include 30 campsites, a five-mile scenic drive, picnic areas, and hiking trails. The visitor center which stands next to the amphitheater is open from Memorial Day to mid-October.

ion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenic drive has four pullouts for gazing deep into its interior. North View overlook faces south. Chessman Ridge and Sunset View overlooks both have views to the west, and Point Supreme has the only viewpoint that looks due north.

Zion National Park – Visitors Center

Zion National Park is full of easy options to take in some beautiful nature. Zion is so striking and unique it’s fun to just be in the canyon and look—everywhere.
After learning a bit about the park, develop a plan of attack at the Visitor Center and then take the shuttle bus into the park. There are suitable kids’ trails at nearly every stop.
Plan your camping well in advance. The two campgrounds in the park fill up fast.
Zion National Park – Emerald Pools Trails

The Emerald Pools Trails are perfect for kids—not too long, not too steep with a fun playful payoff at your destination.
The vegetation surrounding the sparkling pools and glistening waterfalls is almost tropical it’s so lush. It also stays pretty cool on a hot day. You’ll have fun hopping rocks to cross the stream and pool edges.

The trailhead is across the highway from Zion Lodge

Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion National Park Kolob Canyons © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park – Kolob Canyons

Heading north from St. George on Interstate 15 take exit 40 and drive the short Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway to the picturesque Kolob Canyons. The short scenic drive ascends 1,100 feet, showcasing deep reddish-orange cliffs, protruding abruptly from the ground. The road terminates at Timber Creek Overlook. Stop at the Visitor Center and pick up a brochure that explains the 14 numbered stops along the drive. The best time to view the canyons is early morning.

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.
—Eric Hansen

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Sedona: Beautiful, Mysterious & Seductive

Beautiful. Mysterious. Seductive.

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

These words describe Sedona.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

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6 Family Summer Destinations in Southeast Utah

Summer is here, and maybe it’s time to plan a trip to some of the wonders found in southeastern Utah.

Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Natural Bridges National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we explored family-friendly destinations in and around Moab including two national parks, a state park, and three scenic byways.

The next home base for exploring southeastern Utah is Bluff, 100 miles to the south of Moab on US-191. In today’s post we introduce you to some wonderful landscapes and family adventures in and around Bluff.

Bluff – The Town

Nominated as one of Budget Travel Magazine’s coolest small towns, Bluff is nestled between dramatic sandstone bluffs and the San Juan River on the Trail of the Ancients Scenic Byway in southeastern Utah. The Navajo reservation borders the town weaving the culture of the Navajo people with Bluff’s eclectic style.

People often say that “Bluff is a feeling”. The Navajo word, “Hozho”, may explain it best.  Hozho is said to be the most important word in the Navajo language and is loosely translated as peace, balance, beauty, and harmony.  To be “in Hozho” is to be at one with and a part of the world around you.

Natural Bridges National Monument

Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hovenweep National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Along with a developed campsite, Natural Bridges National Monument offers both easy and moderately strenuous routes from which to view the three large natural bridges in the monument. You can get a lot out of simply driving the loop and stopping at each of the turnouts or you can venture a few hundred feet down into the canyon to see the bridges and the streams that formed them firsthand.
What about ruins, you ask? As a matter of fact, there are quite a few down in the canyons. Thanks for asking.

Montezuma Creek Road

Montezuma Creek Road runs from near Monticello down to a point west of Bluff. It’s an amazing drive—winding and dusty, but amazing.

Besides traveling through beautiful southeastern Utah canyons, it passes a number of excellent Anasazi ruins and kivas and an old trading post and crosses Montezuma Creek at a place that any youngster—or adult, for that matter—will find as entertaining as a water park.

A 2WD vehicle with decent ground clearance should get by just fine.

Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moki Dugway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument

East of Bluff toward the Colorado border is the network of archeological sites known as Hovenweep National Monument. The main visitor center is situated near the largest set of ruins, Square Tower.

If you don’t mind a few more miles of driving and a bit of dirt road navigating, it is worth visiting the other outlier sites such as Holly and Horseshoe & Hackberry.

Remarkably well preserved and castle-like, these structures are sure to spark the imagination.

Moki Dugway

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa on SR-261 south of Natural Bridges National Monument. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below.

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. The remainder of US-261 is paved.

Valley of the Gods

Valley of the Gods is the smaller neighbor of the more famous Monument Valley. It’s impressive, isolated pinnacles and buttes make the views worth the loop drive that leaves Highway 163 a few miles east of Mexican Hat and deposits you at the base of Moki Dugway and just a few miles north of Goosenecks State Park.

Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Valley of the Gods © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley

Straddling the Utah-Arizona border, Monument Valley is a cluster of majestic sandstone buttes rising from the desert floor. Lying within the Navajo Nation, Monument Valley has been the location of many western films, especially John Ford films featuring John Wayne.

You’ll not want to miss Goulding’s Trading Post Museum which displays interesting movie, western and Navajo memorabilia within the Goulding home as it was in the 1940s and ’50s.

Worth Pondering…

Roadtrips have beginnings and ends, but it’s what’s in between that counts.

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

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

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

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

Next we explored Waterbury, 13 miles northwest of Montpelier.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Charles Kuralt

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10 Family Summer Destinations in Moab

Summer is here, and maybe it’s time to plan a trip to some of the wonders found in southeastern Utah.

Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dead Horse Point State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So, in the interest of creating some indelible memories and introducing you to some wonderful landscapes and family adventures, Vogel Talks RVing has compiled this list of family-friendly destinations in Moab.

Moab’s easy access to Arches and Canyonlands national parks, Dead Horse Point State Park, the Colorado River, three scenic byways, and thousands of square miles of amazing red rock landscapes has made it one of the most sought-after destinations in the American Southwest.

The town

Moab is fun, has some good restaurants, a variety of camping options, and is close to countless natural wonders and fun family activities. And camping spots fill up quickly in the summer. Once you arrive in Moab, your first stop should be the Moab Information Center located at the corner of Main and Center Street.

Dead Horse Point State Park

This is one of the most photographed vistas in the world. The Colorado River never looked so good—except from maybe one of the Grand Canyon overlooks. The drive is less than an hour from Moab and you can easily tie in a visit to the Island in the Sky section of Canyonlands.

Canyonlands National Park - Island in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Canyonlands National Park – Island in the Sky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyonlands – Island in the Sky

From Moab it takes around 40 minutes to drive to the Island in the Sky district of Canyonlands. At a minimum we’d suggest the very short hike to Mesa Arch and either the White Rim Overlook or the Grand View Point Overlook.

Canyonlands – the Needles

If your travels take you south of Moab, it is well worth the half-day side trip to drive out to Needles. On your way you’ll want to pull over at the petroglyph-filled Newspaper Rock State Historical Monument. Once in the park your kids will find the old cowboy camp at Cave Spring Trail and the ancestral Puebloan granary ruin fascinating.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway

The La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway features spectacular scenery ranging from the forested heights of the La Sal Mountains to expansive views of the red rock landscape below. This paved Scenic Backway begins on US-191, six miles south of Moab, and winds north over the La Sal Mountains through Castle Valley, ending at Upper Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-128). Returning to Moab provides a 60 mile loop drive that requires approximately three hours to complete.

La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Sal Mountain Loop Road Scenic Backway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arches – Visitor Center

The Arches Visitor Center is not large but does a great job of orienting you to what the park has to offer and how its attractions were formed. The knowledgeable rangers can help you create a custom plan based on your family’s ages, abilities, time available, and interests.

Arches – Windows section

The Windows section of Arches has some of the most accessible trails and sites for young hikers. On the short loop trail you’ll pass three different large arches: North and South Windows and Turret. Across the parking lot is Double Arch.
Arches – Campground trails

Approaching the Devils Garden trail at the end of the park road you’ll see trails heading off to Sand Dune Arch, Skyline Arch, and Broken Arch. These trails are very easy and short and offer some great areas in which to climb and play around.

Arches: Fiery Furnace tour

If we could do only one half-day trip in Arches, it would be a visit to the Fiery Furnace. Because of its maze-like structure and sensitive environment, first time Fiery Furnace visitors must accompany a ranger-guided tour. The three-mile round trip hike is fine for anyone older than four. This area’s beauty, variety, and complexity never ceases to amaze and inspire.

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-279)

Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-279) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Potash-Lower Colorado River Scenic Byway (UT-279) © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Scenic Byway provides great views of the Colorado River, ancient rock art, and dinosaur tracks. A late afternoon start is rewarding as the sunset on the reddish-orange sandstone cliffs along the route is especially beautiful on the return drive to Moab.

This byway begins 4.1 miles north of Moab, where Potash Road (UT-279) turns off of Highway 191. After 2.7 miles Potash Road enters the deep gorge of the Colorado River. At the four mile point, look for rock climbers on the cliffs along the section of Potash Road, locally referred to as Wall Street.

Worth Pondering…

It’s a beautiful day for it.

—Wilbur Cross

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Blue Ridge Parkway: The Road Most Traveled

Spanning 469 miles through 29 counties, the Blue Ridge Parkway takes travelers along the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina providing a unique view of foliage and history.

The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America's favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America’s favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Construction of the parkway began in 1935 as a public works offspring of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The project helped the economically depressed people of the Appalachians. Hand-cut stone archways, fences, bridges, and tunnels line many parts of the road, framing spectacular views of the mountains.

One of the most scenic roads in America, the parkway connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It starts at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, intersecting Skyline Drive, and winds southwest through Virginia into mountainous western North Carolina. Drivers marvel at the picturesque views along the route of the Black Mountains, Great Craggies, Pisgahs, Great Balsams, and the Great Smokies.

Drivers marvel at the picturesque views along the route of the Black Mountains, Great Craggies, Pisgahs, Great Balsams, and the Great Smokies. Along the way, travelers will find campgrounds and hiking trails, glimpses of small-town Appalachian life. Like a living museum, the parkway is filled with the history of its unique, pioneering families. Mountain culture, music, and art is preserved throughout the region.

The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America's favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America’s favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each season along the Blue Ridge has its own beauty with pink wild rhododendrons lining the roadway and carpets of wildflowers filling the forests in spring and summer. Then, autumn brings a brilliant patchwork of red, yellow, rust, and green. Winter presents a completely different panorama of quiet, snowy landscapes.

Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is one of the parkway’s favorite attractions. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflected the old mill. Both the blacksmith shop and then the grist mill were built by Ed Mabry sometime around 1910 and operated until 1935.

Near the Virginia/North Carolina state line, Cumberland Knob (milepost 217.5) is where construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began. A visitor center offers a selection of publications about the parkway while the woodlands and open fields offer good hiking opportunities.

Further along the parkway, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 20-room, 13,000 square foot mansion built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style.

The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America's favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America’s favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center, one of five shops of the Southern Highland Craft Guild which features handmade crafts by hundreds of regional artists.

Moses Cone’s interest in nature and conservation led him to plant extensive white pine forests and hemlock hedges, build several lakes stocked with bass and trout, and plant a 10,000-tree apple orchard.

The Linn Cove Viaduct (milepost 304), a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. It was completed in 1987 at a cost of $10 million and was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be finished. The Linn Cove Visitor Center is located at the south end of the Viaduct. You can read about the construction of the Viaduct and get general Parkway information.

You’ll find that you can easily spend a week or more exploring Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway headquarters is located here along with the parkway’s Folk Art Center which displays some of the finest arts and crafts of the region. Just southeast of town is the Biltmore Estate, an opulent 250-room French Renaissance mansion built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. Plan a full day to tour the house, gardens, and award-winning winery.

The Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cradle of Forestry (milepost 411) is four miles south of the parkway on US Highway 276. The 6,500 acre Cradle of Forestry Historic Site commemorates the beginning of forest conservation in the United States. On this site in 1898, Dr. Carl Schenck, chief forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, founded the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in America. Outdoor activities include several guided trails which lead to historical buildings, a 1915 Climax logging locomotive, and an old sawmill.

The last 10 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the Cherokee Indian Reservation and ends at the entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. While in Cherokee, visit the Cherokee Indian Museum and hear the moving story of the Cherokee Nation.

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, you see a place, and you know, instinctively, this is paradise.

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A Utah Road Trip: Natural Bridges, Moki Dugway, Valley of the Gods & More

It’s nearly impossible to drive any kind of distance in Utah without going through some spectacular countryside, no matter what route you choose.

Heading west from Blanding on SR-95 the landscape was vast, open and colorful. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Heading west from Blanding on SR-95 the landscape was vast, open and colorful. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there is one drive a bit off the beaten path that is not nearly as well known as other scenic drives and designated scenic byways and yet is truly worthy of a day trip.

Starting this 130-mile journey from our home base at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, we drove our toad north on US-191 to Blanding, then took a left turn to head west on SR-95.

With every bend in the road, we found ourselves craning our necks to take in the stunning views. Enormous, patterned red rock walls lined the sides of the road, and mystical red rock formations rose up from the horizon and changed shape as we passed them by. The landscape was vast, open and colorful, and completely devoid of the human touch. Everywhere we looked, we felt inspired by the wondrous creations of a divine hand.

The road was first constructed in 1935 as a gateway from Blanding to Natural Bridges National Monument and remained unpaved through the 1960s. It wasn’t until the ’70s that portions of the road began to be paved. Yet, because it doesn’t link any major towns or cities, we found that as we passed by one glorious red rock vista after another on our way to Natural Bridges, there was rarely another vehicle on the road.

Several miles before reaching the national park gate we left SR-95, heading west on SR-275 to the park gate. Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area. It is rather remote and not close to other parks, and as a result is not heavily visited.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge.

Continuing our road trip, we retraced our route on SR-275 and SR-95, traveling south on SR-261 to Muley Point, Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods.

Before descending Moki Dugway, you may wish to stop at the fantastic vista at Muley Point. To reach Muley Point, take the first road to your right (west) at the top of the dugway. The Muley Point Overlook provides viewers with a panorama of the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, and the vast, sweeping valleys of the desert valley below.

Moki Dugway consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moki Dugway consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also spelled Mokee, the term moki is deried from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below.

The Moki Dugway was constructed in the 1950s to provide a way to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat.

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. The remainder of US-261 is paved.

Valley of the Gods lies below the Moki Dugway overlook. You enter another environment as you descend from scrub forest to desert.

Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley near many of the formations. Short hikes are necessary to reach some, but most can be seen from the road. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections.

Days can be spent by anyone with a camera and time. As is usual in this stark landscape, morning and evening are the best times to take photos. The Valley of the Gods is full of long and mysterious shadows in the evening. The morning sun shines directly on the valley and its towers.

The road exits onto US-163 about 7.5 miles north of Mexican Hat. Pointing our toad east for 17 miles and we’ve back at our home base in Bluff.

Worth Pondering…

How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!

—Emily Dickinson

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A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

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

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

After arriving at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort we unhooked our dinghy and after setting up camp we ventured out.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RV, we explored Fredericksburg and the nearby Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Wildseed Farms, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. In today’s post, we return to Fredericksburg and explore further afield including a detour or two.

The most famous detour of all is Luckenbach, population 25, reached by driving six miles east of town on U.S. 290, then turning south (right) on Ranch Road 1376; continue on this little road about four miles till you see signs. If you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far—maybe it’s time to stop and ask directions, as signs to Luckenbach just don’t last long, thanks to souvenir hunters.

These days Luckenbach, Texas is, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, a “State of Mind”—A Texas state of mind, where you can kick back, relax, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—like a step back in time.

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

In 1849, a general store opened in Luckenbach, a town made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1973 classic country hit, “Luckenbach Texas-Back to the Basics”. The store is still there with a bar, a dance hall for special events, and “prit near always” a jam session playing. Sometimes country stars make impromptu appearances, or there may be an armadillo race or horseshoe tournament going on.

Also nearby, east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

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.

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.

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park.

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

The park is unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I am humbled by the forces of nature that continuously -mold our great state of Texas into a beautiful landscape complete with geological diversity, flora and fauna. It is my goal as a photographer to capture that natural beauty and share it with others.

—Chase A. Fountain

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Sculpted By Water: Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area in southeastern Utah. It is rather remote and not close to other parks, and as a result is not heavily visited.

Natural Bridges National Monument sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Natural Bridges National Monument sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed, as they are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges.

Unlike Arches National Park, with over 2,000 classified arches, there are only three natural bridges here. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

The pinyon and juniper covered mesa is bisected by deep canyons, exposing the Permian Age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Where meandering streams cut through sandstone walls, three large natural bridges were formed.

At an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level, Natural Bridges is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants range from the fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts to remnant stands of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Hanging gardens in moist canyon seep springs and numerous plants flower in the spring.

Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument. It is considered middle aged. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument. It is considered middle aged. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Animals range from a variety of lizards, toads, and an occasional rattlesnake, to peregrine falcons, mountain lions, bobcats, and black bear.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds).

Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge. An 8.6-mile hiking trail links the three natural bridges, which are located in two adjacent canyons.

To make the experience even more breathtaking, each natural bridge is accessed by a steep hike down to the base of the bridge and then back up again. Starting down the trail to Sipapu Bridge, we arrived at the first rough-hewn Navajo-looking log ladder, and scampered down. The trail to the Sipapu Bridge hugs a massive overhanging rock wall that Mother Nature has painted in wide swaths of black, orange, and pink. Considering the forces of wind and water that shaped these rocks, we couldn’t help but imagine the ancient people who once sought shelter here.

Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world (only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger). In Hopi mythology, a “sipapu” is a gateway through which souls may pass to the spirit world.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the "youngest" of the three because of the thickness of its span. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After admiring the bridge for a while, we made our way back up along the striped rock wall to the wooden ladders and on up to the loop road that winds through the park.

The second stone arch, Kachina Bridge, also requires hiking down stairways that have been carved into the sandstone by the National Park Service and clambering down log ladders as well.

Unlike Sipapu, however, Kachina is a thick and squat bridge that crosses a large cool wash filled with brilliant green shade trees.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. The relatively small size of its opening and its orientation make it difficult to see from the overlook.

Along the flanks of this bridge we saw the faint etchings of petroglyphs that were pecked out of the rock eons ago. We were intrigued to learn that some of the cliff dwellers from the Mesa Verde area 150 miles away in Colorado had called this place home around 1200 A.D.

We got our workout once again as we huffed and puffed up the ladders and staircases back to the loop road.

Owachomo is the smallest and thinnest of the three natural bridges here and is commonly thought to be the oldest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Owachomo is the smallest and thinnest of the three natural bridges here and is commonly thought to be the oldest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owachomu Bridge is probably the most spectacular, and also the easiest stone bridge to reach. The trail into the canyon underneath the bridge is a short distance from the overlook. It is the oldest bridge in the park, and rock falls have reduced the thickness to only 9 feet, so it may not be here much longer. Needless to say, walking on top of the bridges is not allowed.

The visitor center is open year-round. It has a slide program, exhibits, publications, and postcards. A 13-site campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

Worth Pondering…

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

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