Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other

Scenic wonders are visible in all directions from Scenic Byway 12, a 121-mile-long All American Road, as it winds and climbs.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled between two national parks—Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon—Scenic Byway 12 is located in one of the most beautiful places on earth

Mile for mile, few of America’s national scenic byways can compete with the diverse scenery and number of natural attractions along Highway 12 Scenic Byway. Recognized as one of the most beautiful drives in America, the byway showcases some of Utah’s uniquely scenic landscape.

Scenic Byway 12 takes visitors through memorable landscapes, ranging from the remains of ancient sea beds to one of the world’s highest alpine forests, and from astonishing pink and russet stone turrets to open sagebrush flats. The history and culture of the area blend together, making Scenic Byway 12 a journey like no other.

Scenic Byway 12 has two entry points. The southwestern gateway is from US 89, seven miles south of the city of Panguitch. The northeastern gateway is from Highway 24 in the town of Torrey near Capitol Reef National Park.

Other major attractions include Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Hell’s Backbone, Hole-in-the-Rock, Cottonwood Canyon, Burr Trail, and Box-Death Hollow Wilderness Area.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Additionally, there are nine communities along Byway 12, each with a character all its own. Settled by Mormon families who established homes and ranches in the area, the towns proudly display their unique heritage and invite you to visit.

Winding south from Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 follows the edge of Boulder Mountain, reaching elevations of almost 9,400 feet, passing viewpoints that overlook Capitol Reef National Park. The highway then drops down into rugged Escalante Canyons, where it crosses deep chasms and climbs steep-sided plateaus. One section follows The Hogsback, a narrow ridge barely wider than the two-lane roadway, with cliffs falling away on either side.

The western approach is gentler—the roadway is not as sharp or narrow. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Boulder the road meanders southwest across the expansive Kaiparowits Plateau and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

About 20 miles south of Boulder, the Hole-in-the-Rock Scenic Byway dirt road cuts south into the Escalante Canyons where you’ll find dozens of arches, ancient Native Indian rock art, and the mind-boggling rock formations of Devils Garden.

Back on Highway 12, about two miles northwest of the town of Escalante is Escalante Petrified Forest State Park. A series of short hiking trails leads to groupings of petrified logs, thousand-year-old petroglyphs, and dinosaur bones dating from the Jurassic period. In the center of the park, the Wide Hollow Reservoir offers great canoeing and bass fishing.

Escalante is often called the “Heart of Scenic Byway 12” as it is nestled between the elevated meadows of the Aquarius and Kaiparowits Plateaus and the low desert country surrounding the Escalante Canyons in the middle of the byway.

Thirty miles west of Escalante, you’ll come to the small town of Cannonville and the Highway 400 turnoff to Kodachrome Basin State Park. The changing warm light on the park’s towering sandstone chimneys prompted the National Geographic Society to name the park Kodachrome in 1949.

Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The last stop along Highway 12 is one of America’s iconic attractions, Bryce Canyon National Park. Established in 1924, the park is world famous for its towering eroding-sandstone pillars called hoodoos. The breathtaking three-mile-wide amphitheater is especially colorful at sunrise and sunset from Bryce and Inspiration points.

Worth Pondering…
Those who dwell among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

—Rachel Carson

Read More

Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Naturally

The sense of wonder inspired by the magnificent beauty of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument excites the imagination and invites exploration of the natural world. Within this vast and untamed wilderness, visitors find places for recreation and solitude.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America's public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a huge area consisting of a maze of sandstone cliffs, canyons, and plateaus. The Canyons are part of a natural basin surrounded by higher areas of the Colorado Plateau. Parts of the Colorado Plateau, such as the Aquarius Plateau, rise to above 11,000 feet, while lower parts of the canyons empty towards Lake Powell at 3,700 feet.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument dominates any map of southern Utah and spans 1.7 million acres of America’s public lands between the Utah-Arizona border to Bryce Canyon National Park on the west and Capitol Reef National Park on the east. It is unique in that it is the first monument to be administered by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), rather than the National Park Service.

Entry into the national monument is by two paved roads: Highway 89 between Kanab and Big Water on its southern end and All American Road Scenic Byway 12 between Bryce Canyon and Boulder on the north. Johnson Canyon Road and Burr Trail are two other hardened-gravel access roads.

All the other roads into the Monument are dirt, clay, or sand. Caution should be exercised when traveling on unpaved roads as conditions can change quickly and dramatically depending on the weather. High clearance four-wheel drive vehicles are recommended. Services, smart phone access, and water are generally not available.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. A geological formation spanning eons of time, the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a territory of multicolored cliffs, plateaus, mesas, buttes, pinnacles, and canyons. It is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante.

Despite their different topographies, these three sections share certain qualities: great distances, enormously difficult terrain, and a remoteness rarely equaled in the lower forty-eight states. Human activities are limited on these lands, yet their very remoteness and isolation attract seekers of adventure or solitude and those who hope to understand the natural world through the Monument’s wealth of scientific information.

The Grand Staircase rises in broad, tilted terraces. From the south the terraces step up in great technicolor cliffs: vermilion, white, gray, pink. Together these escarpments expose 200 million years of the earth’s history.

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is a geologic sampler, with a huge variety of formations, features, and world-class paleontological sites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The highest part of the Monument is the Kaiparowits Plateau. From the air, the Plateau appears to fan out southward from the town of Escalante into an enormous grayish green triangle, ending far to the south at Lake Powell and the Paria Plateau. The 42-mile-long Straight Cliffs mark the eastern edge of the plateau, ending at Fiftymile Mountain in the southeast.

To the north of Fiftymile Bench is the Aquarius Plateau, dominated by the 11,000-foot Boulder Mountain. To the east lies an expanse of pale Navajo sandstone which the Escalante River and its tributaries, flowing down from the plateau, have carved into a maze of canyons. In this arid territory, it is ironically water that has done the most to shape the landscape.

As intriguing as it is beautiful, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument also provides remarkable possibilities for scientific research and study. Researchers continue to uncover new insight about how the land was formed and the life it sustains.

What scientists are learning and the methods they use to understand what it all means can be discovered at Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument visitors centers located in the communities of Kanab, Big Water, Cannonville, and Escalante. With so much information to share, each visitor center’s interpretive exhibits focus on different scientific themes, including paleontology (Big Water), geology and archaeology (Kanab), the human landscape (Cannonville), biology, botany, and eology (Escalante).

The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is divided into three distinct sections: the Grand Staircase, the Kaiparowits Plateau, and the Canyons of the Escalante. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Through interpretive exhibit, visitors learn about the spectacular Monument resources and gain a greater appreciation for the natural world.

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

Read More

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite

Located in south-central Utah in the heart of red rock country, Capitol Reef National Park is a hidden treasure filled with cliffs, canyons, domes, and bridges in the Waterpocket Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated in Torrey at the junction of Scenic Byway 24 and All American Highway 12, just 3 miles from Capitol Reef National Park, Wonderland RV Park is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

After setting up camp at Wonderland RV Park we unhooked our dinghy and ventured out. In no time we were craning our necks as exotic rock formations in shades of grey and maroon began to loom up out of the landscape around us.

This portion of the Scenic Byway 24 (also known as Capitol Reef Country Scenic Byway) is characterized by pale, towering cliffs, and swirling rock patterns that look like the gods dipped their fingers in finger paint and smeared the colors on the rounded domes. After a while, these smooth, colorful surfaces gave way to bold, jagged red rock cliffs with flanks resembling cathedral buttresses.

Capitol Reef National Park runs on a north-south axis along a huge buckle in the earth’s crust called the Waterpocket Fold. The Waterpocket Fold is a wrinkle in the earth’s crust. Layer upon layer of rock folded over each other. This 100-mile-long— but relatively narrow—feature was uplifted approximately 6,800 feet higher on the west side. It is named the Waterpocket Fold because of the numerous small potholes, tanks, or “pockets” that hold rainwater and snowmelt. Capitol Reef is actually the most formidable and striking section of the Fold.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Three main types of sandstone are responsible for the Waterpocket Fold’s rugged scenery. Navajo Sandstone makes up the white domes and peaks—up to 1,000 feet thick.

They look like the domes on the US Capitol building and on many state capitol buildings. It dominates the Capitol Reef skyline. Reef was a borrowed nautical term used to describe a barrier. Hence, the name. Capitol Reef.

The shale along the bottom layer is reddish brown. High and straight. Wingate Sandstone. Directly on top of that is another layer of many colors. The Kayenta formation.

The Kayenta and Wingate form magnificent walls of soaring cliffs imprisoning the canyons below. Vegetation is sparse except for the rare flat surface where a little soil may have settled.
The Navajo call the area the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow”, an accurate depiction of the many hues of the landscape of Capitol Reef. The “capitol” comes from the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resembles the nation’s capitol building, and the “reef” comes from the rocky cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like coral reefs.

The Capitol Reef area was ill-suited for farming but the fertile soil alongside the Fremont River not only tolerated, it encouraged, the planting of fruit trees. The Mormons arrived to settle the little community they called Fruita in the late 19th century.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today, those beautiful orchards offer a grand contrast to the parched, rocky landscape. The former small Mormon colony of Fruita is surrounded by these orchards. Peaches, pears, apples, cherries, and apricots are ready for picking from June to October.

The aptly named Scenic Drive juts 10 miles south from the visitor center past Fruita campground and south along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold into the park’s interior. It has dirt-road turnoffs for Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge with scenery to match their names.

The twisting Grand Wash spur road takes you into a landscape dramatically different from the dark red hills along the base of Capitol Reef. Grand Wash is a narrow, steep-walled canyon subject to dangerous flash floods that often arrive with little warning. Avoid canyons and washes when storms threaten.

Although the scenic drive is the easiest way to see Capitol Reef, there are numerous other routes. Drive Scenic Byway 24 through the park to Notom-Bullfrog Road, which runs south along the eastern edge of the park. There is access to slot canyons and washes in varying conditions and is paved for the first 10 miles.

Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you have a 4WD vehicle and weather conditions are right, you can make the long drive up to the beautiful Cathedral Valley at the northern end of the park, where tall buttes and pinnacles are reminis­cent of the stark monoliths of Monument Valley. Since you’ll be venturing into extremely remote country it’s essential that you check with a park ranger before making this trip; be sure you have plenty of fuel and water and that you are prepared for any emergency.

Worth Pondering…

Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.

—Albert Einstein

Read More

7 Family Summer Destinations in South Central Utah

In previous stories on Vogel Talks RVing, we covered family summer locations in southeastern and southwestern Utah that are beautiful, fun, and kid-friendly.

Capitol Reef National Park scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Capitol Reef National Park scenic drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this list we cover destinations in south central Utah including Torrey, Boulder, and Escalante. 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, park rangers, and fellow travelers around you. You’ll gain wonderful insight and friendships that are sure to make your vacation even more memorable.

Capitol Reef National Park – Fruita

Capitol Reef National Park doesn’t get the attention it deserves. It may not possess the geographical icons of Zion and Bryce but its accessible natural, historical, and archeological sites combine to make it an excellent family destination.

The park got its name in part from the great white rock formations resembling the U.S. Capitol building and from the sheer cliffs that presented a barrier to early travelers.

Fruita was a pioneer town that became more of a ghost town in the mid-1900s. There is nothing spooky about its hundreds of fruit trees, however. In season you can pick and eat what you like. You’ll enjoy the many interesting structures and educational displays.

Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park – petroglyph panel

This large and varied petroglyph panel runs for hundreds of feet along the cliffs on the north side of the highway along the Fremont River. A long wooden walkway makes the panels accessible. You might want to bring binoculars to get a close up look.

Like many petroglyph panels, you may have trouble seeing the images. Just keep looking and they’ll start popping out at you. This particular panel is interesting because it includes geometric figures associated with cultures living in the area thousands of years ago.

Capitol Reef National Park – scenic drive

Set aside several hours or so to take the scenic drive south from the visitor center (where you may pick up a virtual tour guide). You’ll pass a number of interesting pioneer and geographic sites. Along the way you’ll come across a number of great places, such as Grand Wash and Capitol Gorge, to climb around and explore.

Boulder – Scenic Byway 12

Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Highway 12 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is simply no boring way in or out of this town.

North of Boulder, Scenic Highway 12 wraps around the alpine Boulder Mountain at an elevation close to 10,000 feet. You go from a hot sandstone canyon to a cool pine-covered mountain pass within an hour. Scenic wonders are visible in all directions from this 121-mile-long All American Road as it winds and climbs.

South of Boulder, this scenic byway takes you across Hogsback Road with drop-offs of 1,000+ feet on either side of you. The only real danger here is that the stunning views keep you rubber-necking from side to side. Pull over at one of the turn outs and get your visual fill there. Eyes on the road, my friend.

Burr Trail

For those with 4WD vehicles consider using the Burr Trail Road which enters town from the east coming from the south end of Capitol Reef National Park. The switchbacks up and down the Cockscomb are amazing.

Boulder – Anasazi State Park Museum

Settled in 1889, Boulder was America’s last town to receive mail by mule (until 1972). The town’s main attraction, the Anasazi State Park Museum, encompasses the ancient ruins of the Coombs archaelogical site. Excavated in 1959, the site’s ruins and exhibits provide an interesting  look into how the Anasazi or ancient ones lived almost a thousand years ago.

Petrified Forest State Park and Wide Hollow Reservoir © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petrified Forest State Park and Wide Hollow Reservoir © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Escalante- Petrified Forest State Park

A few miles west of town is Petrified Forest State Park and Wide Hollow Reservoir. Adjacent to the fishable reservoir, the state campground has some good shady sites with running water, flushing toilets, and showers.
Don’t miss the couple of short hikes that wind through an ancient fallen petrified forest. Check the message board near the ranger station for evidence of the curse for taking away any souvenirs. Love ’em and leave ’em.

Worth Pondering…
It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters in the end.

—Ursula K. Le Guin

Read More

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.

Read More

Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips

For many Americans, summer is the time to hit the open road.

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 85 percent of Americans, or 198 million people, are planning time away in the coming months, up 13 percent from 2014. And 89 percent of them will take a summer road trip.

Although the majority (68 percent) of these Americans are planning at least one week-long road trip, (on par with 2014), more are opting for extended vacations and setting out for at least two weeks this year (36 percent vs. 32 percent in 2014).

With school out for the summer break and the weather warm, the possibilities are endless.

But where to go? How to decide on the destination? Where to point the RV for the very best fun, scenic, and relaxing escape?

Each state has unique appeal, with great camping and outdoor activities available. There are national parks, state parks, county and regional parks, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, All American Roads and other scenic byways, historic sites and cities, mountain retreats, museums, and theme parks.

Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway's best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway’s best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every major journey begins with a plan: where you’re going, where you’re stopping along the way, and how you’re getting there.

And for financially conscious travelers, the budget will make the call though it doesn’t have to mean less enjoyment.

To assist frugal travelers plan their summer road trips, WalletHub compared the 50 US states to find the most fun, scenic, and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations—and the ones that’ll have them busting a U-turn.

To find the most road trip-friendly destinations in the US, the states were compared across three equally weighted dimensions, including driving and camping costs, road conditions and safety, and fun and scenic attractions. Next they identified 20 relevant metrics including fuel prices; quality of roads and bridges; and number of national parks, scenic byways, and attractions.

Selected results follow:

Overall Ranking (Best 5; 1-5): Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota, Washington, Ohio

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Overall Ranking (Worst 5: 46-50): South Dakota, Mississippi, Delaware, North Dakota, Connecticut

Lowest Average Fuel Prices (1-5): South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri

Highest Average Fuel Prices (46-50): Washington, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska, California

Lowest Price of Camping (1-5): Nevada, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona

Highest Price of Camping (46-50): Maine, California, Road Island, Maryland, Connecticut

Most National Parks Per Square Mile (1-5): Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii

Fewest National Parks Per Square Mile (46-50): Iowa, Alaska, Wisconsin, Nevada, Illinois

Most Scenic Byways (1-5): California, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Idaho

Fewest Scenic Byways (46-50): Hawaii, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Connecticut, Delaware

Fewest Car Thefts Per Capita (1-5): Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Idaho

Most Car Thefts Per Capita (46-50): New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Washington, California

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lowest Average Cost of Car Repairs (1-5): Nebraska, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico

Highest Average Cost of Car Repairs: (46-50): Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina

What then should we take away from the results of the research? What are the implications? Will it alter our travel plans? If not, why not?

For many RVers and other summer road trippers, scenic attractions and national parks will override fuel or camping costs.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we detailed four states that stood out from the rest as great RV travel and camping destinations: two in the West (New Mexico and Utah) and two Eastern states (South Carolina, and Georgia). Interestingly, in the overall ranking, these four states ranked number 22, 6, 12, and 13 respectively.

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

Read More

Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

Offering nonstop panoramas, the Blue Ridge Parkway winds for 469 miles through the mountains of Virginia and North Carolina without a signal light or stop sign.

Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway's best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway’s best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most of the way, you weave among the forested peaks of the Blue Ridge Mountains towering above quilted farmland spread out in valleys below.

The nation’s first and longest rural parkway began as a 1930s depression-era public works project. Taking over 52 years complete, it was designed to simulate a park-like environment, blending natural surroundings and panoramic views with farms, streams, forests, and local culture.

The Blue Ridge Parkway follows the Appalachian Mountain chain, twisting and turning through the beautiful mountains. From Shenandoah National Park, the scenic drive travels along the Blue Ridge Mountains for 355 miles. Then, for the remaining 114 miles, it skirts the southern end of the Black Mountains, weaves through the Craggies, the Pisgahs, and the Balsams before finally ending in the Great Smokies.

Enticing nature lovers, the Blue Ridge Parkway spans more than 70,000 acres of forest and includes 14 vegetation types, 1,600 vascular plant species, and 130 species of trees.

The Peaks of Otter offers a visitor center, a campground, Johnson Farm restored to 1920s appearance, boating, and fishing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Peaks of Otter offers a visitor center, a campground, Johnson Farm restored to 1920s appearance, boating, and fishing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Taking a break along the way, visitors can stop at a visitor center and learn more about the area from the many exhibit and restored historical structures. The drive is long, but there are more than 100 trails along the Parkway for travelers to stretch their legs. In addition to hiking, the parkway also offers bird-watching opportunities, horseback riding, ranger guided walks, and nine campgrounds, on top of ample opportunity to photograph America’s Favorite Drive.

The magnificent views and historic attractions are too numerous to enjoy in just one trip which may be why the region attracts so many repeat visitors. It doesn’t matter whether you start from the north or south or anywhere in between—just don’t be surprised if you wander in and out of the parkway during your explorations.

You’ll need over a week on the Blue Ridge to adequately absorb all that surrounds you. With more than 260 overlooks, each stop provides one dramatic scene after another.

The road is narrow winding in some sections and tunnels have height restrictions, RVs of all sizes have been traveling the parkway for years. Of course, your everyday explorations will be best enjoyed using your dinghy; we based our coach in RV parks along the way, moving several times as we traveled south. The many entrances to the parkway allow you to enter or exit easily.

Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap (milepost 0), our first stop was the visitor center at Humpback Rocks (milepost 5.8) where we gathered information and talked with the ranger on duty.

You’ll find a visitor center and campground with 24  RV sites at Otter Creek (milepost 60.8).

At the Peaks of Otter (milepost 85.6), another visitor center provides more park information. There, we also explored the Johnson Farm, restored to 1920s appearance.

Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is one of the parkway’s best-loved attractions. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflects the old mill. The slowly turning waterwheel spills a small cascade of water into the pond while, inside the mill, park interpreters give demonstration on the workings of the gristmill.

The North Carolina section of the parkway starts at Milepost 216.9, outside of Cumberland Knob.

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 Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center.

he splendor of the Blue Ridge Parkway, America's Favorite Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Parkway, America’s Favorite Drive © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Linn Cove Viaduct (milepost 304) hugs the face of Grandfather Mountain and is recognized internationally as an engineering marvel. This was the last section of the Parkway to be completed and a model of the construction technique highlights a visit to the Linn Cove Visitor Center.

A slight detour at milepost 355.4, via State Route 128, led us to the highest point east of the Mississippi River. At 6,684 feet, Mount Mitchell offers incredible views of color-washed lower elevations.

The Blue Ridge Parkway has six exits in the Asheville area. So there’s no excuse not to stop off in that charming city on your summer vacation and tour Biltmore Estate, the country’s largest private home.

The parkway south of Asheville to Great Smoky Mountains National Park is known for its range of elevation. From about 2,500 feet, it gradually rises to 6,047 feet at the parkway’s highest point, Richland Balsam Gap, milepost 431, and then descends to just over 2,000 feet, all through the undeveloped beauty of national forest.

Worth Pondering…

Excuse me…but is this Heaven?

Read More

Road Trip Nation: On The Road To Adventure

Summer has finally arrived, which means it’s time to hit the road in search of adventure.

Hyannis, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hyannis, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So get out there and make some memories as you travel this beautiful country of ours.

But before you go, there’s the planning. Don’t just hit the road. Choose right.

The road trip is one of North America’s grand traditions—a chance to travel and see things from ground level. And with thoughtful planning you’ll avoid the “are we there yet” blues often associated with family vacations.

Where to road trip? Here are four road trips that will awaken your senses and make you glad to be “on the road again…”

Highway 6, Cape Cod, Massachusetts 

Cape Cod is an arm-shaped peninsula located on the Easternmost portion of Massachusetts. It is a well-traveled tourist and vacation area, featuring miles and miles of beaches, natural attractions, historic sites, art galleries, restaurants, and a variety of campgrounds and RV parks.

Scenic Byway 12 travels through some of the most diverse, remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12 travels through some of the most diverse, remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Allocate some time to explore this charming 117-mile route that wends through Cape Cod. You will go through forests, past saltbox homes in colonial villages, tidal ponds, and eventually end up at the Provincetown harbor. Don’t miss the towering sand dunes and beaches.

Along the route you can enjoy a bike ride along the sandy shores or bask in the sun before finishing the day munching on a plate of delectable, fresh seafood. But be prepared to spend a lot of time on stops in quaint Cape Cod towns like Hyannis, Easton, Wellfleet, Truro. You will have good chowder. See sand dunes. Drink some craft beer. Hear the slapping Atlantic Ocean. Maybe buy some antiques. This is Americana.

Word of advice: stick with weekdays.

Scenic Byway 12, Utah

Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America, receiving the designation of All American Road in 2002. The highway has two National Parks, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, at each end and many other scenic points in between.

The route goes for 124 miles at significant elevations (9,000 feet) through forested mountains to the amazing bald mountains in Boulder. From there the road begins following a narrow ridge along the red canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

The Green-backed Heron, the smallest Florida heron, is found along the Tamiami Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Green-backed Heron, the smallest Florida heron, is found along the Tamiami Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around each bend, there are surprises: eroded towers and ramparts, dense forests of aspen and fir, pinyon and sagebrush, rolling slickrock, variegated buttes and mesas, snaking canyons, and rock walls varnished with mineral stains.

Part of the challenge of a road trip on Scenic Byway 12 is deciding which of several beautiful side trips to take: Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Calf Creek Falls, Burr Trail, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Tamiami Trail, Florida

Take a scenic road trip through the Sunshine State, enjoying a route that connects historical Florida with its modern counterpart. A National Scenic Byway, the Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41/State Road 90) is 264 miles of warm sunlight, salty breezes, and lush vegetation. The highway is described as the Beauty and the Beast of Florida roadways by the St. Petersburg Times, winding its way through the Florida Everglades, hammock oaks, and sandy pines.

Passing through Ruskin, Bradenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples, the Tamiami Trail connects Tampa to Miami. It forms a portion of the northern boundary of Everglades National Park and provides access to Shark Valley Slough and observation tower. The road is the only way to access the Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center and Headquarters.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Discover Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Now, let’s go RVing to the beautiful Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos? Okanagan? Oh, and how do you pronounce that again?

The northern most point of the Sonora Desert is British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley.

Located in the southern interior, the Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The mountains are lined with ponderosa pine, which give way to cacti, tumbleweeds, and fragrant sage brush. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles from Osoyoos in the south to Vernon in the north.

If you’re not familiar with this pocket of British Columbia, then think, peaches and beaches, wine-tasting, foodie-filled, great outdoor experience and fun in this, Canada’s only desert.

The pairing of some stellar Okanagan Valley wines is all part of the experience.

And that’s the beauty of the Okanagan Valley region, and Osoyoos in particular. Grapes grow alongside desert-like dunes; low-lying golf course greens huddle between mountain peaks.

Worth Pondering…

Free again! All it takes is a clean windshield and a full tank of gas, and you feel a terrible craving to be “on the road again”. Let’s see what’s over the next hill complex. Is that Willie Nelson singing. For real, there’s the music of this friendly engine pushing you along with the lyrics of the road.

Read More

Red Rock Scenic Byway Signage Goes Up

The Red Rock Ranger District of the Coconino National Forest will soon commence construction of six Red Rock Scenic Byway sign structures, several informational kiosks, and some trailhead improvements along a 7.5-mile section of State Route 179. The work is expected to take several months to complete.

Scenic Byway signs will be constructed at the north and south ends of the 7.5 mile stretch of SR 179, and at Courthouse Vista, Little Horse Trail, Bell Rock Vista, and Yavapai Point Vista.

Various improvements at Yavapai Point Vista will also occur, including the construction of a pathway to vista points, and the installation of interpretive panels. A temporary 60-day closure of Yavapai Point Vista will be in place during the construction period; all other sites will remain open, reports US Forest Service in a recent news release.

The Scenic Byway signs will be constructed of natural red rock and rustic appearing steel to blend in with the surrounding landscape and local architecture.

This section of SR 179 is special because in 2006, the US Dept. of Transportation recognized its uniqueness by giving it All American Road status, the highest designation within the National Scenic Byways Program. To date, this section of 179 remains the only All American Road in the State of Arizona.

Nationally, there are 125 National Scenic Byways in 44 states, but only 36 of the Byways, including the Red Rock Scenic Byway or “Gateway to Sedona”, have additionally earned the prestigious All-American Road designation.

This project is being funded through the National Scenic Byway grant program and was awarded to the Red Rock Ranger District.

The public may experience some inconvenience during the construction period, in and around construction sites.

Details

Red Rock Scenic Byway

Length: 7.5 miles

Time to Allow: Take 20 minutes to drive, but allow several hours to include all activities along the byway.

Website: redrockscenicbyway.com

Coconino National Forest

The Coconino National Forest is one of the most diverse national forests in the country with landscapes ranging from the famous Red Rocks of Sedona to ponderosa pine forests, to alpine tundra. Explore mountains and canyons, fish forest lakes, and wade in lazy creeks and streams.

Website: fs.usda.gov/coconino

Red Rock District Coconino National Forest

Location: 8375 State Route 179, Sedona, Arizona (just south of the Village of Oak Creek)

Address: P. O. Box 20429, Sedona, AZ 86341-0429

Administrative Offices: (928) 203-7500

Visitor Center: (928) 203-2900

Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the Red Rock Scenic Byway

Part 1: Exploring Red Rock Scenic Byway

Worth Pondering…

God created the Grand Canyon, but he lives in Sedona.

—New York Times, 1997

Read More

Exploring Red Rock Scenic Byway

The National Forest/Chamber of Commerce Visitors Center

Your first must-stop is the beautiful Forest Service Red Rock Ranger Visitor Center, located just south of the Village of Oak Creek on SR 179.

This is Red Rock Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Get maps and tons of Red Rock Country “fun things to do” information, as well as your Red Rock Pass for trailhead parking. Learn all the stories and history of this amazing area, like how the rocks and mesas were formed and named.

Red Rock Crossing on Oak Creek

As you leave the Visitors Center driveway, turn north (left) on SR 179 and you’ll see a major intersection with a stoplight. Turn west (left) onto Verde Valley School Road and drive 4.7 miles where the road dead-ends at the Red Rock Crossing parking lot. Do not park anywhere but the parking lot. This road travels through residential areas so be aware of the 30-35 mph speed limit; also, for the last 1.2 miles, the road is unpaved as well as curvy, hilly, and subject to flooding after excessive rains.

From the parking lot, it is a very short walk to the pathway that will lead you down to the unique red rock banks of Oak Creek.

Don’t forget your camera, because you’re at one of the most photographed sites in the country as well as one of the most naturally beautiful settings in Sedona.

If it’s a Saturday, chances are there’s a small wedding taking place at the north end of the crossing. Most days there will be artists painting or photographers setting up their shots or people just soaking up the inspiring view.

Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If the creek water’s low enough, step across the red rock stepping stones, which is the crossing, to Red Rock State Park situated on the other side.

Bell Rock Vista and Pathway Southern Trailhead

Turn east (right) out of the Red Rock Crossing parking lot and take Verde Valley School Road 4.7 miles back to its stoplight intersection with SR 179, where you will turn north (left).

Proceed straight, through the Village of Oak Creek, and just past the next stoplight, on your right hand side, will be the entrance to the Bell Rock Vista and Pathway parking lot.

Here’s where you’ll discover the size and power of the red rocks; this is a travelers up close experience with mystical Bell Rock and mammoth Courthouse Butte. Feel the red rock energy and enjoy the views.

There are many pathways to choose from, all going to or near Bell Rock that can be done in a half hour or as long as you feel like walking.

Little Horse Trail and Bell Rock Pathway Northern Trailhead

Turn north (or right) out of the parking lot onto SR 179; proceed straight and be on the lookout for signs that say “Little Horse Trail” and “Bell Rock Pathway”; entrance to this stop’s parking lot will come up fairly quickly, on your right.

Discover a little serenity among the glorious hiking and biking trails that meander to hidden washes and breathtaking red rock panoramas.

Little Horse Trail is a local favorite, rated moderate, and 6.5 miles if you do the full round trip. Remember the rules of the trail, and have fun!

Also at this stop, view the “Three Nuns” with the renowned Chapel of the Holy Cross perched below.

Finished in 1956, Chapel of the Holy Cross sits atop a pinnacle 250 feet above the valley floor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Officially, the scenic road ends just beyond this point so after your hike, and before resuming your drive, take a moment to look west and gaze upon famous Cathedral Rock, a huge rock formation with multiple red rock spires. Whether it is silhouetted against a glowing sunset or shining in the midday sun, it is considered one of the most beautiful of all the red rock formations in the Sedona area, and surely a fitting way to end your day of Red Rock Splendor.

Note: This is the first of a two-part series on Red Rock Scenic Byway

Part 2: Red Rock Scenic Byway Signage Goes Up

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

Read More