Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

Standing amid a jumble of basalt boulders, I paused after pulling myself up a steep climb of coffee-colored rock.

Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’re hiking appropriately named Boca Negra Canyon of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and so far the rock art hasn’t exactly been jumping out at me. But as I pause to rest and finally consider the beauty of the canyon, petroglyphs begin to emerge before me.

Round faces, turtles and birds, brands and crosses, and lightning bolt-like patterns appear plain as day where I was looking on the fly just moments before. Sometimes you cover more ground and observe more beauty when standing still.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Jointly managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument comprises 7,236 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment created by ancient lava flows along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s west escarpment, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 150,000 year ago lava seeped from an enormous fissure here, covering the landscape like a prehistoric parking lot. Over time, cooling and erosion cracked the hardened lava. In many areas the ripples of once-hot lava can be seen in rock fragments.

By pecking the flat basalt, ancient artists found they could chisel away the dark desert varnish that had coated the rock and expose lighter rock beneath, creating a contrast that is still striking today. Basalt has a high iron content, and the rocks’ dark interior is basically rust. Creating a petroglyph was no small undertaking, as it took considerable time to etch the rock.

The National Park Service Las Imagenes Visitor Center and book store is located off Unser Boulevard at Western Trail. We began our visit here with a brief orientation to the monument and checked the schedule for ranger guided tours and special events before lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trail at Boca Negra Canyon, a 70-acre section of the monument. Each trail offers a diverse view of the cultural and natural landscape within the monument.

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Mostly, the national monument’s expanse of open space is undeveloped save for interpretative signs and facilities along the few developed trails at Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and the volcano’s trails. Otherwise, silence and isolation are yours just minutes from New Mexico’s largest city.

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs. This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images. This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

Read More

Campgrounds As Base Camps For Festivals & Annual Events

Campgrounds are great places to enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With RV and tent sites as well as a wide range of accommodations, campgrounds can also serve as base camps for those interested in attending festivals and annual events throughout the U.S and Canada. These events range from rodeos to music festivals and cultural to culinary happenings.

Following is a sampling of the festivals and annual events that take place during the coming weeks and months, along with listings of nearby attractions and campgrounds and RV parks, many of which also have rental accommodations.

All parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

Alberta: Calgary Stampede, Calgary, July 3-12, 2015

The Calgary Stampede is called “The Greatest Outdoor Show on Earth” for good reason. For 10 days every July, the Stampede City welcomes the world to a spectacular celebration of western hospitality. Stampede Park, located in downtown Calgary, is the world’s greatest gathering of cowboy culture. Each year, more than 1.2 million visitors from around the world come to Calgary to experience the heart-stopping action of the world’s roughest and richest rodeo, featuring bull riding, barrel racing, and more.

The GMC Rangeland Derby is the world’s top Chuckwagon Races. And every night is capped off with the Grandstand Show and fireworks finale that lights up the sky.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada Olympic Park, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Recommended RV Park: Mountain View Camping, Calgary

Freedom Trail, Bostom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Freedom Trail, Bostom © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Massachusetts: 33rd Annual Boston Harborfest 2015, Boston, July 2-6, 2015

The 33rd Annual Boston Harborfest is a six-day Fourth of July Festival that showcases the colonial and maritime heritage of the cradle of the American Revolution: the historic city of

Boston. The award-winning festival strives to honor and remember the past, celebrate the present, and educate the future with reenactments, concerts, and historical tours. The week includes Boston Chowderfest, Children’s Day, and the July 4th Boston Pops Concert, and fireworks.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Freedom Trail, Boston Common, Fenway Park, USS Constitution (“Old Ironside”), Boston Harbor, Plymouth Rock

Recommended RV Park: Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort, Foxboro

New Mexico: 12th annual Pork & Brew State BBQ Championship, Rio Rancho, July 3-5, 2015

Old Town Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Old Town Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come out and enjoy this terrific family-friendly event with live entertainment, arts and crafts, fun jumps, magic show, and, of course, plenty of award-winning BBQ. The Pork & Brew is hosted by the Rio Rancho Convention & Visitors Bureau and is a fully sanctioned Kansas City BBQ Society event—one of the top 10 events on the Society calendar.

With an average attendance of more than 20,000, Pork & Brew has become one of the largest events in New Mexico. Winners go on to participate at the World Series of Barbecue in Kansas City, Missouri, October 1-4, 2015 .

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Jemez Mountain Trail, Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Sandia Peak Tramway, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Park: American RV Park, Albuquerque,

Alberta: The Canadian Badlands Passion Play, Drumheller, July 10-26, 2015

Travel back 2000 years to the land and events that changed the course of history. This dramatic portrayal of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ in an acoustically superb natural bowl amphitheater will make you feel like you’re actually there. The Scripture-based script and music, sets, costumes, quality performances, and the site’s remarkable similarity to the Holy Land all add to the experience. “One of Alberta’s Top Cultural Attractions”—Attractions Canada

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Dinosaur Trail, Dinosaur Provincial Park, Royall Tyrrell Museum, Rosebud Theatre

Recommended RV Park: Dinosaur Trail RV Resort, Drumheller, Alberta

Worth Pondering…

Happiness is not a state to arrive at, rather, a manner of traveling.

—Samuel Johnson

Read More

Using RV Parks As Base Camps For Festival & Annual Events

RV parks and campgrounds are great places to enjoy hiking, biking, boating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With RV and tent sites as well as a wide range of accommodations, campgrounds can also serve as base camps for those interested in attending festivals and annual events throughout the U.S and Canada. These annual events range from rodeos to music festivals and cultural to culinary events.

Following is a sampling of the festivals and annual events that take place during the coming weeks and months, along with listings of nearby attractions and campgrounds and RV parks, many of which also have rental accommodations.

All parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

Louisiana: Festival International de Louisiane, Lafayette, April 22-26, 2015

Historic downtown Lafayette is transformed into an entertainment complex featuring six music stages, food court areas, street musicians and animators, arts and crafts boutiques, art galleries, beverage stands, cultural workshops, international cooking demonstrations, and a world music store.

All programming for the festival is designed to celebrate cultural expression in a variety of forms and to encourage understanding and appreciation for different cultures. Festival International events are free to the public and designed to encourage family participation from all sectors of the community.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Avery Island, Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Breaux Bridge, Vermilionville, St. Martinsville, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Parks: Frog City RV Park, Duson, Louisiana, and Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana

New Mexico: Gathering of Nations Native American Powwow, Albuquerque, April 24-25, 2015

American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Gathering of Nations Powwow is North America’s largest Native American competition and powwow. The event celebrates Native American pageantry and culture with more than 500 tribes represented from across the U.S. and Canada.

Attracting more than 3,000 participants from all over the world, the powwow features aisles of shopping at the Indian Trader’s Market and native foods and music. Also featured during the powwow is the crowning of Miss Indian World.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Indian Pueblo Cultural Center, Acoma Pueblo, Sandia Peak Tramway, Petroglyph National Monument, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Park: American RV Park, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Louisiana: Contraband Days Pirate Festival, Lake Charles, April 28-May 10, 2015

A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the first two weeks of May, the city of Lake Charles returns to the swashbuckling days of the pirates and buccaneers who once sailed the area’s waterways. Legend has it that pirate Jean Lafitte buried his contraband treasure somewhere along Southwest Louisiana’s plentiful waterways. The celebration of Lafitte and his adventures has grown into Contraband Days.

The first festival began in 1958 as a one day festival of water and has expanded to a 12- day festival with close to 100 events, such as pirates sailing in from Lake Charles, coming ashore to put up their pirate flag, and taking over the city. Lafitte makes the mayor walk the plank and jump into Lake Charles, which starts a two-week festival of concerts, carnival rides, food vendors, concerts, bike races, tennis and golf tournaments, a Kids’ Pirate Costume Contest, a petting zoo, and more.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Charpentier Historic District, Creole Nature Trail All-American Road, Mardi Gras Museum, Imperial Calcasieu Museum, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Parks: A+ Motel & RV Park, Sulphur, Louisiana

Louisiana: Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival, Breaux Bridge, May 1-3, 2015

Crawfish, mudbugs, crawdads, or crayfish—call them what you will—are woven into Cajun culture. They raise them, catch them, eat them, sing about them, and have a festival celebrating them.

Held the first weekend in May in the Crawfish Capital of the World, the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival has become one of the largest gatherings of world-famous Cajun, Zydeco, and Swamp Pop musicians and plays host to more than 30 bands on three stages during the three-day festival. Music fills the air from morning into night at Parc Hardy.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nearby Attractions: Avery Island, Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site, Vermilionville, St. Martinsville, Local Cuisine

Recommended RV Park: Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson, Louisiana

Worth Pondering…

With the coming of spring, I am calm again.

—Gustav Mahler

Read More

Getaway To New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Whether you are a nature-lover, photographer, adventurer, or just looking for an amazing experience, a road trip to New Mexico will not disappoint.

Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Utah and Arizona, much of New Mexico is saved for all to enjoy as wilderness in state or national park format. Be it petroglyphs or stone dwelling from ancient residents, pictographs, or trails left by religious and mercantile travelers, hiking over huge lava fields or pristine white sand dunes, going subterranean for weird cave formations and bats, or dipping your toes or a paddle in the Rio Grande, there is much to engage the outdoor lover.

The true Southwest awaits you in Albuquerque, a city with a name that is as much fun to spell as it is to say.

On the west edge of Albuquerque, Petroglyphs National Monument is best explored with hiking shoes, a digital camera, and binoculars. Three separate sections of the park showcase different rock art and require various levels of physical fitness. A nice afternoon can be made of exploring all three. Scrambling over rocks to locate the ancient pictures will make you feel like a child exploring for treasure. A zoom lens helps for capturing images on odd rock faces.

Once you are done following the trail of ancient art, head into Albuquerque and immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage, rooted in centuries of history. Soak in the blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year-perfect for outdoor activities. Breathe in the high desert air scented with sage and piñon, and you’ll understand why Albuquerque is a destination like no other.

Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sandia Mountains looming over Albuquerque provide an impressive backdrop for a city with a good, friendly vibe. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and you may be fortunate enough to witness a red- and pink-hued sunset that reminds you of this succulent fruit.

Quintessential Adobe brick houses line older neighborhoods, a walkable downtown encourages exploration and the blend of Native American, Latino, and Anglo cultures provides art and cuisine as a feast for the eye and the palette.

New Mexico is home to 22 Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and 19 pueblos. Each tribe is unique and has its own traditional language, customs, values, prayers, songs, ceremonies, traditional attire, and way of life.

The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore the Native American heritage. A majority of the 19 pueblos are located in northern New Mexico. Reminders of Native American presence are throughout the state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock.

Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights
Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about these tribes and Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center features a museum, restaurant, gift shop, regular dance performances, and offers information about visiting the pueblos and a calendar of feast days and other events.

Seventy-two miles to the east, El Malpais National Monument intrigues the visitor with vast fields of lava flows. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations.

The name El Malpais, or badlands, certainly seems to fit the bill here. It is hard to imagine anyone needing to cross mile after mile of broken, rocky, rough lava, but there is indeed a trail that does so. Better to see each side of the park by driving and checking out the many scenic viewpoints and shorter trails.

Just down the road at El Morro, the massive monolith carved with graffiti from travelers stopping for rest and water will make you ponder those who have passed this way before.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.

Whether you are looking for a dining experience that has received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Read More

Good Sam Announces 2013 Rally Dates

The Good Sam Club has announced dates for the organization’s two scheduled rallies in 2013.

The first event will be held April 11-14 in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the Balloon Fiesta Field, according to yesterday’s news release. The second rally is scheduled for Syracuse, New York, at the New York State Fair from June 13 through 16.

“Many club members and RV industry personnel have been asking about our 2013 Rally schedule,” said Marcus Lemonis, chairman and CEO of the Good Sam Club and Camping World Inc.

“In 2012, we expanded our rally schedule to make the events accessible to more members. After the terrific response we got from both members and exhibitors at our 2012 Louisville Rally last month and at our Phoenix rally earlier this year, we determined that we would schedule two Rallies in 2013.”

Good Sam is still accepting reservations for the last of the three 2012 Rallies presented by DISH, to be held in Daytona, Florida, at the Daytona International Speedway, November 2-4. Entertainment at the Daytona Rally will feature country superstar Reba McEntire and American Idol’s Katharine McPhee.

See you in Albuquerque! Photo taken from Petroglyph National Monument overlooking Albuquerque. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“With an exciting location like the Daytona International Speedway, the outstanding entertainment, not to mention all of the great rally activities, we are expecting a big turnout and a great time for all of our guests,” said Lemonis.

Details

Good Sam Club

The world’s largest organization of recreational vehicle owners, the Good Sam Club is committed to making RVing a safer and more rewarding experience for its 1.2 million members.

Founded in 1966 by Trail-R-News, a small California RV magazine, Club members originally promised to help fellow travelers on America’s highways.

Today, Good Sam’s halo and broad smile continue to signify friendliness among RVers and an eagerness to serve, although on a much larger scale.

Nearly 1,500 grassroots Good Sam Club Chapters from Anchorage, Alaska, to Okeechobee, Florida, get together for RV campouts, good times and community service.

The Club’s state and provincial organizations host RV gatherings called Samborees that likewise promote RV fellowship and philanthropy, only on a larger scale.

And the ultimate RV event, the Good Sam Rally, is held three times per year and brings together thousands of RVers from across North America to listen to RV experts, shop for RV headlights, tailpipes, and everything in between.

Plan now to attend these rallies.

Hundreds of worthy causes benefit from the fundraising and volunteer efforts of Good Sam members, from Adopt-a-Park and Adopt-a-Highway to Dogs for the Deaf and Serious Fun Children’s Network.

Phone: (800) 234-3450 (toll free)

Website: goodsamclub.com

Related Story

Worth Pondering…
I am part of all that I have met

Yet all experience is an arch wherethro

Gleams that untravell’d world, whose margin fades

Forever and forever when I move.

—Alfred Lord Tennyson

Read More

50 Things To See or Do See in Your RV Before You Die

You might have read it or flipped through it or seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

The list, which includes everything from Asian sailing excursions to African horseback riding sites, might be mouthwatering to the wannabe world traveler. For most, however, the financial ability to travel the world simply isn’t there.

But have no fear. Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Acadia National Park, Maine

People have been drawn to the rugged coast of Maine throughout history. Thanks to the robber barons that used the park as a private playground in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the islands of Acadia have been preserved in a pristine state.

Acadia’s largest island, Mount Desert Island, encompasses a range of geological diversity, including rocky Atlantic shoreline, lush forests of spruce and fir, dozens of lakes and ponds, and rugged granite hills. Today visitors come to Acadia to hike granite peaks, bike historic carriage roads, or relax and enjoy the scenery.

The Alamo, Texas

One hundred seventy-six years ago the Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days.

The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the “Shrine of Texas Liberty.”

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas.

Remember the Alamo!

Continue reading →

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, New Mexico

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows. The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 6-14—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment.

Continue reading →

Aransas National Wildlife Refuge, Texas

Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Searching for the Whooping Cranes in Aransas National Wildlife Refuge. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Aransas National Wildlife Refuge is special for many reasons. It is home to America’s tallest bird, the highly endangered whooping crane. In fact, each winter the refuge plays host to huge wild flocks of whooping cranes whose bugle-like call echoes across the marsh.

With a spectacular wing span of 8 feet, the cranes reach speeds of 30 mph and travel 400 miles a day along their 2,600-mile migratory route between summer nesting grounds at Wood Buffalo National Park in northern Alberta and wintering grounds at the Aransas refuge.

The refuge also provides an important resting, feeding, and wintering grounds for more than 390 migratory and native species including pelicans, egrets, herons, roseate spoonbills, and many other birds.

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures that is unlike any other in the world. An awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations dot its landscape.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. Besides serving up quiet in big, Texas-size portions, Big Bend boasts geologic wonders, unique wildlife, and plenty of room for hikers and campers to spread out.

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park, which earns its name for the sharp turn the Rio Grande takes in its midst, sprawls across an astounding 801,163 acres of arid plains and mountains in far-west Texas. The Indians thought this land was the Great Spirit’s rock storage facility; the Spaniards called it “El Despoblado,” or “the uninhabited land.” However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

“My favorite thing is to go where I have never been,” wrote photographer Diane Arbus, and so it is with us.

Read More

Links to the Past: Petroglyph National Monument, NM

Petroglyph National Monument contains over 7,000 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment made from ancient lava flows, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In desert areas stones often are covered with desert varnish, a thin coating deposited on the rocks for hundreds or thousands of years. Artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints; other petroglyphs are more complex and less easily understood.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

The monument is cooperatively managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Las Imagenes Visitor Center

Begin at the Las Imagenes Visitor Center with a brief orientation to the monument and to check the schedule for guided tours and special events; then, lace up your hiking boots and hit a trail.

Boca Negra Canyon

Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Rinconada Canyon

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs.

This trail area has no water, so bring your own.

You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Piedras Marcadas Canyon

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images.

This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own.

You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Petroglyph National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.

Admission: No entry fee charged; Boca Negra Canyon parking fee $1/vehicle weekdays, $2 weekends charged by the City of Albuquerque

Pets: Dogs are not allowed at the Boca Negra Canyon area

Location: From I-40, Exit 154 (Unser Boulevard) north 3 miles to Western Trail; turn left or west onto Western Trail and follow road to the visitor center

Camping: No camping facilities

Address: 6001 Unser Blvd. NW, Albuquerque, NM 87120

Contact: (505) 899-0205

Web site: nps.gov/petr

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

Read More

Up, Up and Away: The Greatest Show OFF Earth

How do balloons work?

The basic principal behind hot air ballooning is that hot air rises.

Weather permitting, balloons begin to launch at about 7:15 AM on mass ascension days, led by a balloon flying the American flag to the strains of The Star Spangled Banner. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

The envelope is first filled with cold air, and then, when the balloon is almost full to capacity, still lying on its side, the pilot operates the burners. Propane gas burners are used to project heat into the envelope. When the air inside the balloon is warmer than the air outside the envelope, the balloon stands upright. That is why balloonists like to fly so early in the morning. If it were too hot outside, it would be impossible to get the inside of the balloon that much hotter, and it would not have enough lift to get off the ground. The morning air is generally cool and stable, and ideal for flying.

To launch the balloon, the pilot pulls on the burners again, increasing the temperature inside the envelope, and, while it becomes lighter than the air outside, the balloon lifts off the ground.

What about the weather?

Predawn October mornings in Albuquerque are quite crisp, so dress warmly. When you arrive at the Balloon Fiesta Park before dawn, you can expect the temperature to be around 40 degrees. By noon, it is usually about 65–68 degrees. Your best bet is to wear layers of comfortable, casual clothing that you can shed as the day heats up. A wind-resistant jacket over a sweater and long-sleeve shirt is ideal.

For the evening events, you will probably start off warm, but be prepared to throw on a jacket after dark.

RV facilities at Balloon Fiesta Park

Like RVs, new balloons can vary in size and amenities. You can start with a smaller sport model for about $20,000. These balloons typically carry a pilot and one additional person. The larger balloons that can carry two or three passengers in addition to the pilot will range between $20,000 and $30,000 dollars. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Having an RV parked adjacent to the launch site is without question the best way to attend this event. Balloon Fiesta Park is set up to accommodate RV parking during the event.

The four RV parking site types include:

STANDARD sites have NO hookups; 2011 rates are $30/night

PREMIUM sites have 20-amp minimum electrical service and low-pressure water provided; 2011 rates are $65/night

VIP sites are located in a separate area immediately adjacent to the Launch Field with two field entry passes included, and NO hookups; 2011 rates are $85/night

PRESIDENT’S COMPOUND sites are located on the east side of Balloon Fiesta Park on a bluff overlooking the Launch Field with four field entry passes included, and 30-amp minimum electrical service and city water pressure; 2011 rates are $150/night (number of spaces is very limited)

Note: All sites require a three-night minimum stay

Albuquerque Aloft

Many pilots who are registered for Balloon Fiesta sign up to participate in Albuquerque Aloft. Pilots launch their balloons from selected school grounds in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho on the Friday morning before Balloon Fiesta. It is a great way to kick off the beginning of the nine days of Balloon Fiesta.

Fiesta Glow all burns when all the balloons fire their burners and light up at the same time are perhaps the most spectacular single moment in all of Balloon Fiesta. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Albuquerque Aloft is the only Balloon Fiesta event in which balloons launch from pre-designated sites outside Balloon Fiesta Park.

Hot-air balloon rides

For many visitors, the ultimate thrill during Fiesta Week is a ride aboard a hot-air balloon. Flights during fiesta events may be booked onsite at the balloon park. The area’s usually good weather and gentle winds make this a popular activity for visitors. Dress in layers and wear gloves.

Exploring Albuquerque

After you’ve been to the Fiesta, it will be easy to see why New Mexico is known as the Land of Enchantment. The Albuquerque metropolitan area contains approximately one-thirds of New Mexico’s residents, and, as the state’s largest city, it has attractions to please a variety of interests.

Albuquerque was founded in 1706 by Don Francisco Cuervo y Valdes in honor of the Duke of Alburquerque, Viceroy of New Spain. The first “r” was later dropped, but Albuquerque is still known as “the Duke City.”

Because prices, dates, and other specifics are subject to change, please check all information to make sure it’s still current before making your travel plans.

Note: This is the second of a two-part series on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Part 1: Up, Up and Away: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Details

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Web Site: ballonfiesta.com

Phone: (888) 422-7277 or (505) 821-1000

Mailing Address: 4401 Alameda NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Worth Pondering…
The balloon seems to stand still in the air while the earth flies past underneath.

—Alberto Santos-Dumont

Read More

Up, Up and Away: Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Countdown to Liftoff: 22 days, 21 hours, 50 minutes

Each October, New Mexico skies are full of bold blues, imperial reds, and vibrant yellows.

Part of the reason for the success of the Fiesta are the cool Albuquerque morning temperatures in October and the Albuquerque box. (Credit: Raymond Watt, balloonfiesta.com)

The event is the world-famous Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, the largest hot-air balloon event in the world. This extravaganza takes place from the first weekend through the second weekend in October—this year’s festival is from October 1-9—and attracts hundreds of hot-air balloonists from around the world.

The balloons come in many colors and shapes with the special shapes category getting larger every year. There are balloons that look like cows, cartoon characters, automobiles, stagecoaches—and just about everything else.

A century after the release of Jules Verne’s balloon adventure novel with Captain Phileas Fogg, Around the World in 80 Days, internationally-acclaimed balloon festival was born in Albuquerque. It was 40 years ago! In 1972, and 20,000 sleepy spectators gathered at sunrise in a local parking lot to witness 13 balloons ascend. At the time, 13 balloons seemed really impressive.

But in 2004, more than 800,000 spectators watched as more than 750 balloons floated into the beautiful blue New Mexico skies. The fiesta has amassed an international following, attracting pilots, spectators, and media from nearly 30 countries.

So, what’s the big deal about balloons?

Hot air ballooning is a spectacular and exciting event to experience. Before dawn, people start to gather. By 6 a.m. long lines of automobiles are jockeying for position in a stop-and-go traffic scene. Excitement fills the air. Weather permitting—and if the wind is not too strong—a rainbow of hot air balloons simultaneously lifts into the early morning air. The crowd is awed and “oohs” and “aahs” over every balloon! Each is a work of art. The number of giant painted bubbles gliding through the sky multiplies the viewers’ pleasure.

Mass Ascensions, a launch of all the participating balloons have been a feature of Balloon Fiesta since its earliest days and is one of the most spectacular display of sound and color in all of aviation. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

The launch field is divided into three sections of 11 rows of 12 balloons each. Think of a checkerboard. The launch begins with the outside rows on the north and south ends of the field—these two rows lift off at the same time. Usually the wind is from the north, so that works out well. Then they work in towards the middle of the checkerboard.

The excitement begins as the crews take the collapsed giant balloons from their storage baskets. Twenty to forty feet of fabric is stretched flat on the ground in exactly the right way. The blue-flamed burners that heat the air to lift each balloon are started. The heat of the flame from the propane tank is surprisingly intense and the noise made by the burner is expectedly loud. When finally, the signal is given for the balloons to ascend and they take off in waves of color, it is a magnificent sight!

Ballooning is popular in Albuquerque…why?

Albuquerque is popular with hot air balloonists because of the “Albuquerque Box.” In balloon language, a “box” refers to flight back and forth over the same area by using winds of opposite directions at different altitudes. It is a common phenomenon in valleys because of the flow of air down the mountains. With a box, balloonists have more flexibility in how they can control and navigate their balloons.

What is a balloon crew?

Balloons are big—and it takes a group of four or more people to help the pilot. Before the flight, the ground crew helps with preparing the balloon. First they walk out the envelope for inflation, and then they help attach all the equipment to the basket.

A special shape balloon, Well Fargo's Cent'r Stage. (Credit: balloonfiesta.com)

Once off the ground, the chase crew follows the balloon in a car or truck (the chase vehicle) so they can help retrieve the balloon and pack it up wherever the pilot lands. It can be a lot of work, but chasing can be fun! Balloonists often need helpers—so ask around; you might just get a ride!

Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Part 2: Up, Up and Away: The Greatest Show OFF Earth

Details

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta

Web Site: ballonfiesta.com

Phone: (888) 422-7277 or (505) 821-1000

Mailing Address: 4401 Alameda NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113

Worth Pondering…
How posterity will laugh at us, one way or other! If half a dozen break their necks, and balloonism is exploded, we shall be called fools for having imagined it could be brought to use: if it should be turned to account, we shall be ridiculed for having doubted.

—Horace Walpole, letter to Horace Mann, 24 June 1785

Read More