My Love Affair With RV Travel in America

“What’s your favorite place to go?”

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park along the Skyline Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course that’s what they ask. It’s the polite thing to ask, after all. People like to seem as if they’re interested in what you do. In this case, the question also always has a twinge of yearning.

I always give the same answer. I find something I like nearly everywhere I go, and it’s hard to pick just one place.

People hate that answer.

“Come on. If you could pick just one place, where would you want to go again? Just one place.”

They all want to hear something exotic, aspirational, and bucket-listy. They want to hear Key West or Santa Barbara, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. They don’t want the truth. Can they handle the truth?

The truth is, we have visited 34 states and 4 Canadian provinces during the past 17 years, and found something that we adored in every one of them.

Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our decade and half of RV travel stoked a love affair with American and Canadian attractions and historic sites, local towns and cities, scenic routes and byways, and national and state/provincial parks.

I did begin rereading John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley — an incredible account of the America that he experienced on his road trip around the country with his wife’s standard poodle as a companion. Steinbeck was 58 years old in 1960 when he began his journey, and he felt compelled to get out and really see the country for the first time in a long time. He said he felt like a criminal writing about a country that he didn’t know enough about anymore.

In the words of photographer Diane Arbus, “My favorite thing is to go where I have never been.” And so it is with us.

Taking your RV on the open road and experiencing breathtaking views along the way can make for the one-of-a-kind vacation your family is looking for. It is the journey and not the destination that is the joy of the RV lifestyle.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highways can guide you along the coast to take in ocean views at sunset. Others wind you through the mountains exploring history.

The US and Canada are brimming with beautiful and diverse routes from the glittering waters of the Pacific to the majestic Rocky Mountains and down to the mysterious swamps of the South.

You don’t have to drive far to find a great road—just about everyone has a favorite route in their part of the country.

Here’s a little secret: You can’t go wrong with the Blue Ridge Parkway or a Route 66 road trip. Scenic and historic, both routes have a little bit of everything. We explain, starting with Route 66.

Route 66: 2,448 Miles

If you’re looking for great displays of neon signs, mom-and-pop motels in the middle of nowhere, or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and “get your kicks on Route 66.”

Antique cars parked along Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along Route 66, antique cars are parked at Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing speaks more to the history and ingenuity of the United States than U.S. Route 66. Beginning in the Windy City, this legendary old road passes through the heart of the United States on a diagonal trip that takes in some of the country’s most archetypal roadside scenes, ending in the land of golden dreams. Chicago’s mighty skyscrapers give way to the Ozarks, eventually leading into the grassy plains of Oklahoma and Kansas. From here you’ll travel into a world of surreal sights: the desert murals of the Southwest and the sandy beaches of California.

Route 66 passes through a marvelous cross-section of American scenes, from the cornfields of Illinois all the way to the golden sands and sunshine of Los Angeles, passing by such diverse environs as the Grand Canyon, the Native American communities of the desert Southwest, the small-town Midwest heartlands of Oklahoma and the Ozarks, as well as the gritty streets of St. Louis and Chicago.

Whether you are motivated by an interest in history, feel a nostalgic yearning for the “good old days” Route 66 has come to represent, or simply want to experience firsthand the amazing diversity of people and landscapes that line its path, Route 66 offers an unforgettable journey into America, then and now.

Blue Ridge Parkway: 469 Miles

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. Connecting two national parks— Shenandoah in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses 469 miles through blue-misted Appalachian highlands.

Take in forest-blanketed mountain vistas, ripe for fauna (look for bear, deer, and beaver) and flora viewing (interesting factoid: the parkway’s namesake “blue” haze is attributed to the hydrocarbon release from the some 130 tree species).

Worth Pondering…

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

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More Americans To Take Summer Road Trip

Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer and kicks off summer vacation planning season. More Americans will take to the roads this year as they benefit from the low fuel prices.

travelocity-road-trip-infographicAccording to a recent Travelocity survey of 1000 Americans, 65 percent of those polled stated that they were more likely to take a road trip this summer compared to last summer.

While it’s clear that low fuel prices are likely driving Americans to take more road trips, Travelocity’s survey also looked at why road trips are still popular when it comes to travel.

While the majority of those surveyed replied that the destination is what they most look forward to, a full one-third of those polled felt that the best part of a road trip is the journey itself.

This sentiment was echoed by a number of Travelocity customers who were asked what they loved most about going on road trips. According to one veteran Travelocity customer, sharing and enjoying their favorite music on the road by “making road trip mixes” is the best part of a road trip, while another noted that it is “…fun to pull over to random roadside attractions. Those usually create long lasting memories and stories that will forever commemorate the trip.”

When asked about what person with whom they would least want to undertake a road trip, 35 percent of those surveyed responded that it would be “the fussy child”, followed by “the one who needs frequent bathroom breaks” (20%) and “the backseat driver” (16%).

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

When asked how long they could go without needing to stop for a break, the average across those surveyed was five hours. However, when broken down by gender, the difference turned out to be substantial. While on average, women feel that they could go just over four hours between stops, while men claim that they can go almost an hour longer before having to pull over.

The Road Trip

The tradition of taking a road trip dates back about 3,000 years.

The first road trip likely occurred in ancient Egypt around 1200 B.C., when Ramses II hit the road in his chariot.

Similar ventures—using the well-loved automobile—began in Germany in the 1880s.

As the car’s popularity grew, so did the practice of taking to roadways for a carefree holiday.

The road trip became an easy, breezy travel idea that’s affordable and accessible—and in America today there is no shortage of highways, byways, and back roads.

Answering the call of the open road is practically an American rite of passage—and today more and more are taking to the open road in a recreational vehicle.

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park along the Blue Ridge Parkway. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

National Scenic Byways

So put the pedal to the metal, crank up those tunes, and roll down those windows to gaze upon America the beautiful as it rolls by.

Indulge your wanderlust on wheels while exploring the following National Scenic Byways.

Scenic Byway 12 (Utah)

Scenic Byway 12 travels through some of the most diverse, remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. It runs through Utah’s Garfield and Wayne Counties and is home to Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks; Kodachrome Basin, Escalante Petrified Forest, and Anasazi Museum State Parks; Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and the 1.8-million-acre Dixie National Forest.

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia and North Carolina)

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina. Connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountainsin North Carolina—the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses 469 miles through blue-misted Appalachian highlands.

Red Rock Scenic Byway (Arizona)

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.” Travelers are amazed by the high desert’s power, diversity, and sense of intimacy with nature. Inhabited for thousands of years, the stunning red rocks are alive with a timeless spirit that captivates and inspires.

El Camino Real (New Mexico)

New Mexico’s El Camino Real passes by missions, historic sites, and a national wildlife refuge.

Cultures along El Camino Real De Tierra Adentro (The Royal Road of the Interior Land), are as diverse as its history and scenery. Pueblos reveal artisans crafting wares using centuries-old methods. First traveled by Don Juan de Onate in 1598, the route provided news, supplies, and travel to the first capital of the New World.

Worth Pondering…

Speed was high

Weather was hot

Tires were thin

X marks the spot

BURMA SHAVE

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Top 5 Picks for 2015

If Time can  pick a Person of the Year and Good Housekeeping can put its seal of approval all over everything, I figured that it was time to designate a few things of my own.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I begin with five of America’s most historic places/natural wonders.

Grand Canyon National Park

John Muir saw the Grand Canyon and called it “God’s spectacle.”

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosion decorate the canyon that travels 277 river miles from Lees Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Nearly five million people see the Grand Canyon each year. Most of them see it from the park’s free shuttle buses or from their car at overlooks along the South Rim. Open all year, the South Rim is the most accessible part of the park.

A much smaller number of people see the Canyon from the North Rim of the park, which lies just 10 miles across the canyon from the South Rim but is a 220 mile by car—all the way around the canyon. Averaging 8000 feet above sea level, rises 1000 feet higher than the South Rim, and because of its remote location, is much less accessible than the South Rim and closed during winter.

A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe

A combination of altitude, desert, and pueblos has produced a magical city that bears little resemblance to nearby Albuquerque or anywhere else for that matter. Santa Fe is the United States’ longest continuously occupied state capital. Located high and dry in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this well preserved center of Southwestern art and architecture attracts visitors with its galleries, cuisine, and play of light on its adobe buildings.

Santa Fe is referred to as “the city different,” a city that honors its Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo heritages and embraces its natural environment unlike any other in the United States. A city whose beautiful, brown adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape and a city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals.

Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country

Adventures in culture, food, and music await in Cajun Country where life is on the spicy side.

With quintessential Louisiana flavors such as boudin, crackling, crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya, and hot sauce, Acadiana has all the makings for a taste-tempting trip. Louisiana’s landscape and history create a culinary tradition unlike any place else—and that makes it the perfect RV getaway for anyone who loves to eat.

But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Popular activities include dancing to Cajun and zydeco music, living history tours at Cajun historical villages, and air boat rides. Nature experiences are abundant on the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Grand Circle Tour

RVing gives us an opportunity to get closer to and experience the beauty of nature. Photo above is Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
RVing gives us an opportunity to get closer to and experience the beauty of nature. Photo above is Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The American Southwest is famous for incredible scenery, red rock pinnacles and formations, brilliant sunsets and deep canyons. Some of America’s most diverse scenery can be found within the Grand Circle—1,500 miles of the most scenic highways in the country.

You will visit six national parks—Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Grand Canyon; three national monuments—Cedar Breaks, Natural Bridges, and Grand Staircase-Escalante; one Navajo tribal park—Monument Valley; and pass by several state parks and other points of interest. Bold splashes of color, fascinating geologic shapes and the mysterious remnants of cultures await you at every turn.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses 469 miles through blue-misted Appalachian highlands. Take in forest-blanketed mountain vistas, ripe for fauna (look for bear, deer, and beaver) and flora viewing (interesting factoid: the parkway’s namesake “blue” haze is attributed to the hydrocarbon release from the some 130 tree species).

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come in late spring for wildflower blooms (rhododendron, azalea); or, in fall (especially around mid-October) for Technicolor foliage displays.

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

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Fall RV Camping: 3 Colorful Destinations

As summer comes to a close, the bright blues and greens that characterize the season are replaced by a deeper, more vibrant palette. As the trees start to don their bright fall colors, the best time of year for viewing the foliage is just ahead.

beauty of Shenandoah National Park
Fall is everyone’s favorite season to visit Shenandoah. The renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive offers a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and gold. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing says “family camping” like fall in the air. There’s a crisp crackle outside and a coolness that feels like sweater weather. Fall camping can be just as much fun as summer camping, so this season take the family out for a few more camping trips before you prepare your RV for the winter.

Visiting national parks tops the list of reasons why many of us chose the RV lifestyleGreat Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited park in the National Park System and home to the largest stands of old growth forests in the Eastern U.S. Varying hues of gold, amber, reds, and even purples are mixed in with the dwindling greens of maples, beech, oaks, and the other hardwood species that make the season so colorful.

The twisting, scenic mountain road that leads out of the eastern edge of Great Smoky—the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway—is a destination unto itself. The north end of this vista-filled parkway ends in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park.

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.

Fall is everyone’s favorite season to visit Shenandoah. The renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive offers a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and gold each year from about mid-October to mid-November. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite.

The rule of thumb is that colors generally peak in Shenandoah during the last half of October.

Sedona and Red Rock Country
Sedona and Red Rock Country, a vacation hotspot, has appeal for every member of the family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Autumn is also a great time to visit Sedona, renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. The explosion of brilliant fall colors signals the best time to take a scenic drive up and down Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. Autumn in Sedona usually begins in early October and crescendos into the full brilliance of reds, yellows, and golden hues from the middle to end of October. The show is usually over by mid-November.

Other points of interests in the area include Montezuma Castle National Monument including Montezuma Well, a detached unit of the park, and Tuzigoot National Monument, one of the largest pueblos built by the Sinagua.

Kentucky’s vast expanses of forested terrain make it one of the best places in the U.S. to enjoy nature’s spectacular display of fall color. About 12 million acres—47 percent of Kentucky’s land area—are forested, and some 175 tree species grow wild in the state. Kentucky is rich in hardwood forests populated by trees known for their bright fall colors.

Kentucky Welcome Center
Kentucky Welcome Center, I-65, Exit 114 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive in Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky. At the northern end, explore the Red River Gorge and Zilpo Scenic Byways, while the southern end boasts the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway.

Among the most scenic routes in western Kentucky is the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway in Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. In central Kentucky, fall is an ideal time to take the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour, which winds past horse farms with their wooden and stone fences underneath a canopy of many-colored leaves.
You won’t find a better venue than Bernheim Forest near Clermont from which to admire the sculptural grace of mature trees in a natural setting. Stroll the paths or hike the trails and take in colorful fall displays that include maples, dogwoods, magnolias, conifers, cypresses, hollies, beeches, and buckeyes.

The color changes usually begin as early as September in the higher elevations of the eastern mountains and gradually progress to the west during October and into early November.

For information about RV parks and campgrounds, check out Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory.

Worth Pondering…

Country Roads

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.
—John Denver

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Summer Time Means RVing Time

Hello summer!

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

School is out, the sun is shining, and the open road beckons. The best part about summer RV road trips is the glorious freedom that comes with them. No beach is too far, no river is too long, no mountain is too high. Just get behind the wheel of an RV and go!

Is there no better time of year to explore the best of America’s National Parks? Summer means early morning fishing, pristine nature hikes, and RVing in the great outdoors.

A road trip to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Zion, Carlsbad Canyon, Mesa Verde is a time-honored tradition, but there are so many other options out there. For more ideas on National Parks to visit, be sure to visit here.

Tour the Alamo and River Walk in San Antonio, My Old Kentucky Home and Bourbon Country in Kentucky, RV/MH Museum & Hall of Fame in Elkhart and the Indiana Amish Country, or Brunswick and the Golden Isles in Georgia.

Rugged mountains and crashing falls, towering forests and photo-worthy small towns are just some highlights on America’s scenic roads and byways. From the dramatic Oregon and California coast to history-lined thoroughfares of New England, there are countless scenic drives across the country—and some stellar standouts.

The state of Georgia has only about 90 miles of coastline yet holds approximately one-third of the entire marshland of the Atlantic seaboard. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The state of Georgia has only about 90 miles of coastline yet holds approximately one-third of the entire marshland of the Atlantic seaboard. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, wends its way through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, past limestone caverns, clear mountain springs, and Appalachian majesty.

Looking for high country scenery, a road cut through desert sandstone and a drive that spans a national monument, a national park, two Utah state parks and a national forest? Utah’s 122-mile long Highway 12 National Scenic Byway between Panguitch and Torrey does exactly that, passing through the Dixie National Forest’s alpine splendor, portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s red-rock desert, Bryce Canyon National Park’s colorful spires, and Escalante Petrified Forest and Anasazi state parks.

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls”.

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the 180-mile-long Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Cajun Country in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild.

Walk where the valiant troopers of the 7th Cavalry died with Custer at the Little Big Horn. Hear bull elk bugle in Yellowstone. Drive the magnificent Wind River Canyon in Wyoming. You will be astounded at the beauty of America, awed by the sheer majesty of it all, and touched deeply by the welcoming smiles and kind words of strangers.

Sedona and Red Rock Country
Sedona and Red Rock Country, a vacation hotspot, has appeal for every member of the family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touch glaciers in Montana and stand on the banks of the mighty Columbia, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers where Lewis and Clark explored. Marvel at the giant redwoods of California and the cliffs of the Oregon coast. Drive Route 66 across Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

From sea to sea, Canada is also filled with fascinating places and amazing destinations for the RV traveler. There are so many reasons to love Canada. Its premier destination spots include Vancouver, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Quebec City, and Halifax.

Jasper National Park combines some of the most spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rockies with ease of access
Jasper National Park combines some of the most spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rockies with ease of access and less crowded conditions than Banff © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) joins the two mountain parks of Jasper and Banff in one of the most breathtaking, beautiful drives that anyone can travel in the world. A series of massive glaciers line the entire length of the Icefields Parkway, with the Columbia Icefield lying along the parkway at the southern end of Jasper National Park.

Traveling the highways and byways of the United States and Canada, there are scenic wonders to discover an explore.

Yes, it is true: Summer time means RVing time.

Let’s go RVing.

Worth Pondering…

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

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

The economic benefits for communities located near national parks and other recreation and scenic hot spots are significant—as long as access to those areas is preserved.

After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service concludes that, nationwide, the country’s parks contributed more than $14.7 billion to gateway communities in 2012.

The report, “2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States and the Nation,” reviewed the National Park Service’s 141 units across the country and analyzed the effects of tourism.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, and Lynne Koontz for the Park Service.

Across the country, the report showed $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, with a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.

Nationally, spending by visitors in gateway communities near national parks included 30 percent on hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast outlets; 20 percent in restaurants and bars; 12 percent on gas and oil; 10 percent for admission and fees; 10 percent on souvenirs and other expenses; 7 percent on local transportation and 2 percent on camping fees.

Across the country, the National Park System units cover a total of more than 84 million acres.

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

The National Park Service report shows 2.2 million people visited Michigan’s four national park units in 2012, spending a total of $181.7 million in the towns nearby, which helped support a total of 3,221 jobs in those local areas.

The report revealed that visitors spent more than $4.6 million while visiting two national parks in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument had 83,788 visitors and supported 65 jobs.

Aztec Ruins had nearly 45,000 visitors who spent about $2.4 million, while Chaco Culture had about 39,000 visitors who spent about $2.25 million in 2012, according to the report.

Also in the Four Corners area, Mesa Verde National Park had about 488,000 total visitors who spent $46.7 million. The spending helped support 645 jobs in the area.

In California, Death Valley National Park hosted nearly 1 million visitors, Yosemite National Park saw more than 3 million visitors and Devil’s Postpile National Monument hosted 90,000 visitors in 2012.

The Death Valley report states that those visitors spent an estimated $78 million, supporting 929 jobs in communities surrounding the park, such as Lone Pine, Olancha, Shoshone, and Tecopa.

The Park Service has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years.

A separate report indicates that the 2013 numbers tell a different story due in part to the 16-day government shutdown in October.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is the 10th-most visited property in the National Park Service, according to NPS 2013 visitation figures for America’s national parks.

Visitation is down in the recreation area, from 4.9 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2013.

The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The exact numbers — 4,970,802 in 2012 and 4,843,350 in 2013 — reflect a decrease of 127,452 visitors.

Nationally, the number of recreational visits to national parks in 2013 was 273 million, which was 9.1 million less than 2012 visitations.

“The shutdown reduced our visitation for the year by more than 5 million visitors who were turned away during those two weeks. These closures had a real impact on local businesses and communities that rely on the national parks as important drivers for their local economies,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said.

Top 10 Most Visited Places in the National Park System

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 14,289,121

Blue Ridge Parkway: 12,877,368

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7,360,392

Lincoln Memorial: 6,546,518

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 6,344,714

Gateway National Recreation Area: 6,191,246

Natchez Trace Parkway: 6,012,740

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 4,941,367

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4,843,350

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

Grand Canyon National Park: 4,564,840

Yosemite National Park: 3,691,191

Yellowstone National Park: 3,188,030

Olympic National Park: 3,085,340

Rocky Mountain National Park: 2,991,141

Zion National Park: 2,807,387

Grand Teton National Park: 2,688,794

Acadia National Park: 2,254,922

Glacier National Park: 2,190,374

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner

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Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in 2012

More than 282 million people visited America’s national parks in 2012, an increase of more than 3 million over 2011.

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It was the sixth highest annual visitation in the history of the National Park Service, despite nearly 2 million fewer visitors as a result of park closures caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Since 1916, the National Park System has recorded more than 12 billion visits.

“The National Park Service strives to represent all that America has to offer,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“People come to national parks for many reasons—for recreation and to learn about American history by strolling through a battlefield. They come to listen to a park ranger at Independence National Historical Park and marvel at the Continental Congress. And people come to national parks for old-fashioned enjoyment of the great outdoors.”

National parks capture the story the United States, from its earliest days to the modern era.

Jarvis said, “The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the opening of the César E. Chávez National Monument in 2012 help us to continue to explore how our nation of many faces and many voices has developed.”

The challenges left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy will become part of American history, too. The storm slammed into 70 national park sites from North Carolina to Maine. Some parks closed briefly, others for weeks while the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York remain closed for repairs.

Camping at Arches National Park, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Arches National Park, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The Statue of Liberty will reopen by the Fourth of July,” Jarvis said.

“It’ll take longer at the Ellis Island Museum. As we rebuild we keep sustainability front of mind. It is clear that our changing climate will bring more severe weather events, especially to coastal areas, and we must repair our iconic national parks to survive future storms.”

There are familiar park names in the Top 10 lists.

Gateway National Recreation Area in New York lost nearly 1.2 million visitors from 2011 because of Hurricane Sandy yet still made the Top 10 list of most visited National Park Service sites.

Most Visited Places of the National Park System (2012)

1. Blue Ridge Parkway (15,205,059)

2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14,540,338)

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)

4. George Washington Memorial Parkway (7,425,577)

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (6,285,439)

6. Lincoln Memorial (6,191,361)

7. Natchez Trace Parkway (5,560,668)

8. Gateway National Recreation Area (5,043,863)

9. Gulf Islands National Seashore (4,973,462)

10.  Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (4,970,802)

Most Visited National Parks (2012)

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)

2. Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352)

3. Yosemite National Park (3,853,404)

4. Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729)

5. Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617)

6. Zion National Park (2,973,607)

7. Olympic National Park (2,824,908)

8. Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256)

9. Acadia National Park (2,431,052)

10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722)

The Saguaro National Park Eastern Rincon Mountain District rises to over 8,000 feet and includes over 128 miles of trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Saguaro National Park Eastern Rincon Mountain District rises to over 8,000 feet and includes over 128 miles of trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics

National Park Service sites receive approximately 280 million visitors each year.

Historic and current visitor use statistics are available for 374 of the nearly 400 units included in the National Park System. (Statistics are not available for some areas; for example, those with joint administration of federal and non-federal lands.)

Website: irma.nps.gov/Stats

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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50 Spectacular RV Trips

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

A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other, a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A Blue Ridge Parkway experience is unlike any other, a slow-paced and relaxing drive revealing stunning long-range vistas and close-up views of the rugged mountains and pastoral landscapes of the Appalachian Highlands. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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:

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia

The Blue Ridge Parkway is a National Parkway and All-American Road noted for its scenic beauty.

Meandering 469 miles from Shenandoah National Park in the northern Shenandoah Valley of Virginia to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in North Carolina, the Parkway follows the Appalachian Mountains and boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the world. It runs through the famous Blue Ridge Mountains, a major mountain chain that is part of the Appalachian Mountains.

Brenham Creamery Company, Texas

Blue Bell ice cream is an icon in Texas. I consider ice cream to be a food group—and there’s no better ice cream available than Blue Bell.

In 1907, the Brenham Creamery Company opened its doors to sell butter. By 1911, they had put together milk, cream, eggs, and fruit fresh from local farmers and were making a gallon or two of ice cream daily, packing it in a large wooden tub with ice and salt, and delivering it by horse and wagon to neighbors. By 1930, Blue Bell Creameries had been born, and today their ice cream is a true Texas favorite.

What makes an exceptionally good thing good? For the answer, visit “the little creamery” in Brenham—I think you’ll find out.

Continue reading →

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Bryce Canyon's limestone has eroded into rock fins and spectacularly-shaped spires called hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon’s limestone has eroded into rock fins and spectacularly-shaped spires called hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bryce Canyon National Park is actually less of a canyon than it is a series of natural amphitheaters sunk into pink cliffs and filled with delicate red rock “hoodoos.”

Millions of years of wind, water, and geologic forces have shaped and etched the surreal landscape. The most brilliant hues of the park come alive with the rising and setting of the sun. Bryce is an unforgettable experience. The 37-mile scenic drive will also get you to key overlooks and vistas, such as Sunrise, Sunset, Rainbow, Yovimpa, and Inspiration Point.

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Canyonlands National Park covers a vast area of rock wilderness in southeastern Utah. Over millions of years, the rivers and their small tributaries have carved the flat sandstone rock layers into many amazing forms with a wide range of colors.

The 530 square miles of the park contain countless canyons, arches, spires, buttes, mesas, and a myriad of other spectacular rock formations.

The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Island in the Sky region of Canyonlands is a wide high plateau with commanding views across many miles of deep canyons in all directions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer unbridgeable canyons of the Green and Colorado rivers divide Canyonlands into three distinct sections—Island in the Sky, The Needles, and The Maze—which differ in the types of landscape found there, the number of visitors and the available facilities.

Continue reading →

Cape Cod, Massachusetts

Cape Cod juts out from Massachusetts, extending 70 miles into the Atlantic Ocean. The Cape and the islands of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard offer miles of glorious ocean beaches, quaint villages, art galleries, outdoor recreation including biking, hiking, and golf. Lighthouses, grassy dunes, whales, salt marshes, seafood, cottages, resorts, shopping, restaurants, clam bakes, pubs, galleries and, oh, yes, a little nature and history.

Each island town has its own personality, but they all share a relaxed way of living, clean saltwater air, and a sense that you’ve discovered a place where time might occasionally truly stand still.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the places and moments that take our breath away.
—George Carlin

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Road trip!

It’s the Memorial Day long weekend—the unofficial start of summer—and for many travel-wise Americans that means one thing: Road trip!

Let's Go RVing on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The tradition of taking a road trip dates back about 3,000 years.

The first road trip likely occurred in ancient Egypt around 1200 B.C., when Ramses II hit the road in his chariot.

Similar ventures—using the well-loved automobile—began in Germany in the 1880s.

As the car’s popularity grew, so did the practice of taking to roadways for a carefree holiday.

The road trip became an easy, breezy travel idea that’s affordable and accessible—and in America today there is no shortage of highways, byways, and back roads.

Answering the call of the open road is practically an American rite of passage—and today more and more are taking to the open road in a recreational vehicle.

5 Great All-American Road Trips

These 10 distinctive all-American road trips, inclusive of both roads less traveled and tried-and-true, pave the way through the country’s finest landscapes, from the Appalachians to the heart of the American West to Arizona’s Red Rock Country—and beyond.

So put the pedal to the metal, crank up those tunes, and roll down those windows to gaze upon America the beautiful as it rolls by.

Indulge your wanderlust on wheels while exploring the following National Scenic Byways.

Blue Ridge Parkway (Virginia and North Carolina)

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses 469 miles through blue-misted Appalachian highlands. Take in forest-blanketed mountain vistas, ripe for fauna (look for bear, deer, and beaver) and flora viewing (interesting factoid: the parkway’s namesake “blue” haze is attributed to the hydrocarbon release from the some 130 tree species).
Picnic areas, campgrounds, hiking trails, and visitor’s centers, offering programs like ranger-guided walks, abound.

Let's Go RVing on the Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come in late spring for wildflower blooms (rhododendron, azalea); or, in fall (especially around mid-October) for Technicolor foliage displays.

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway (North Carolina and Tennessee)

The Cherohala Skyway offers the cultural heritage of the Cherokee tribe and early settlers in a grand forest environment in the Appalachian Mountains.

Enjoy mile-high vistas and brilliant fall foliage, as well as great hiking opportunities and picnic spots in magnificent and seldom-seen portions of the southern Appalachian National Forests.

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala.

The Cherohala Skyway is located in southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina. The Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is about 40+ miles long. The Cherohala Skyway is a wide, paved two-laned road maintained by the Tennessee Department of Transportation and the North Carolina Department of Transportation.

Let's Go RVing on the Cherohala Skyway, North Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 2-part series on 5 Great All-American Road Trips

Part 2: All-American Road Trips

Worth Pondering…
Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.

Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.

The winds will flow their own freshness into you and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.

—John Muir

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