Top 7 Snowbird Hotspots

Cold winter weather is inevitable. But there is an escape.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Residents of the northern half of North America have long found respite from winter’s chill by fleeing to the southern half. As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds avoid winter’s bite, snow and blowing snow, and treacherous icy sidewalks and streets by migrating southward.

Northerners have a bounty of options for destinations. Many snowbirds are north-south creatures with Florida remaining a top spot for Easterners. Snowbirds from the Northwest settle in Arizona and southern California while those in the Mid-West are attracted to Texas. But these states aren’t alone in luring snowbirds, and even within each of these states there’s a bevy of choices to suit every traveler’s taste, interests, and budget.

While many snowbirds head directly south from their northern home and enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts, others cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude. Still other snowbirds follow an itinerary across the Sun Belt sampling a variety of regions and roosts.

Here’s a look at six places that snowbirds might call their winter home.

Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Rich in natural beauty and blessed with glorious weather, Palm Springs and the desert resort cities of the Coachella Valley is a snowbird and vacation paradise, the ultimate desert playground. Part of the Colorado Desert, the area is bounded by majestic mountain ranges—the San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Santa Rosa mountains close by, the little San Bernardino Mountains to the west and the Chocolate Mountains to the east. This desert oasis is also known as a golfing paradise.

Key West

The southernmost tip of Florida has been the end of the line for eccentrics, free spirits, and creative types for a century or more. Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams are among its former residents.

Yuma

Yuma’s wonderfully temperate winter climate makes this southwestern Arizona city a popular destination for snowbirds escaping their cold winter homes. Arizona’s warmest winter city and the sunniest year-round spot in the U.S., Yuma has an annual average of 4,133 hours of sunshine.

Yuma is a major growing region for lettuce, dates, broccoli, cabbage, and agricultural seeds. Some of the major attractions around the Yuma area include the historical Territorial Prison, the Yuma Crossing Historic Park, and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

green jay
Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center near Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Diego

San Diego is the last major city in southern California before the Mexican border. Cosmopolitan, and upscale, the area is blessed with a Goldilocks climate that’s never too hot nor too cold, a natural beauty on the Pacific Ocean and a deep restaurant and entertainment scene centered around the central and walkable Gaslamp Quarter.

Mission

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Mission offers some of the most spectacular locations for birding and butterfly watching on earth. The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center and the National Butterfly Center have created havens for the special species unique to the area, and invite birders and naturalists to their sites by offering viewing stations, watching towers, interpretive centers, and various programs.

St. Petersburg

Along with beautiful beaches, St. Petersburg attracts visitors with the Salvador Dali Museum, Fort De Soto Park, and the St. Petersburg Pier. Beach Drive features a variety of dining and shopping opportunities. Glimmering between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg is known for its warm weather and delightful breezes, and fun in the sun.

Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park near Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

There are numerous reasons to visit Tucson and the many other historic towns and sights around Southern Arizona. Some snowbirds come for a week or two. Others stay for the season.

Some of the major attractions include Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Desert), Catalina State Park, Kit Peak National Observatory, Tohono Chul Park, Pima Air and Space Museum, and Old Tucson Studios.

Worth Pondering…

When you are young, you dream of leaving your house on a set of wheels. When you retire you dream of living in a house on a set of wheels.

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Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

On the northern side of the Coachella Valley, nestled at the feet of the Indio Hills, the Coachella Valley Preserve is the Old West just minutes from Palm Springs, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio, and other desert cities.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Preserve is a natural refuge where visitors can discover rare and wonderful wildlife species. Enjoy some of the 20,000+ acres of desert wilderness and over 25 miles of hiking trails, most of which are well marked.

By a quirk of nature there’s water here, too, but it doesn’t usually come in the form of rain. The Preserve is bisected by the San Andreas fault, and this natural phenomenon results in a series of springs and seeps which support plants and animals which couldn’t otherwise live in this harsh environment.

Enjoy palm groves, picnic areas, a diverse trail system, and the rustic visitor center, the Palm House. Inside the historic building are trail maps as well as unique displays of the natural and historic features of the area.

The palm encountered in the oases within the Preserve is the California fan palm, or Washingtonia filifera. It is the only indigenous palm in California. The Washingtonia filifera has a very thick trunk and grows slowly to about 45 feet. Dead leaves hang vertically and form what is called a skirt around the trunk providing a place for various critters to live. Inflorescences, or fruit stalks, extend beyond the leaves and bear masses of tiny white to cream colored flowers.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

During the fall months, large clusters of small hard fruit hang from the tree. The palms may live 150 to 200 years.

No one knew just how significant a 6-inch lizard would be to conservation in Coachella Valley.

In 1980 a lizard small enough to fit in the palm of your hand brought the $19 billion Coachella Valley construction boom to a screeching halt.

When the lizard was placed on the endangered species list by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, all development was jeopardized because it might illegally destroy habitat for the Coachella Valley fringe-toed lizard.

A six-year conflict ensued as environmentalists battled developers over the fragile desert habitat. Finally, the Nature Conservancy was called in to resolve the bitter stalemate, and the result was a remarkable model of cooperation through which endangered species and economic development could co-exist.

The Conservancy proposed creating a nearly 14,000-acre preserve that would provide permanent protection for the little reptile and other desert species, while allowing developers to build elsewhere in the valley. It was a great experiment in cooperation that produced astonishing results. The creation of the Coachella Valley Preserve proved that through consensus, economic development, and species protection can indeed be compatible.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From easy to moderately difficult, from flat terrain to steep grades, hikes of all varieties are available. There are also several designated equestrian trails, but there are no bike or dog-friendly trails.

One hike that is a sure bet for all levels, is through varying desert terrain to the McCallum Grove, about a mile from the Palm House visitor’s center. There are about a dozen isolated palm groves within the preserve, the largest being McCallum Grove.

There’s more water here than anywhere else in the preserve and the overflow allows a large and diverse community to thrive, including tiny freshwater crayfish called red swamp crayfish, desert pupfish, and the occasional mallard duck making a brief stopover during its annual migration.

After leaving McCallum Grove keep hiking west on marked trails out to “moon country”. You will come to an overlook that provides you with great views of the entire area.
From there you can return to the visitor’s center, or continue via the 4.2-mile Moon Country Trail Loop, or the more advanced Moon Country Canyon Extension, which adds an additional 1.63 miles roundtrip.

Other delightful trails include Pushawalla Palms, Horseshoe Palms, and Hidden Palms, which are all somewhat more strenuous hikes.

Coachella Valley Preserve is a great way to spend a day with its fantastic hiking trails, and beautiful vistas, but best of all it’s free and also easy to find. No matter how you choose to spend your time at Coachella Valley Preserve, you won’t be disappointed.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From Palm Springs take Interstate 10 East to the Ramon Road exit. Turn left and follow Ramon Road and make a left turn on Thousand Palms Road. The entrance to the visitors center is located about two miles on the left.

Worth Pondering…

Wilderness needs no defense, only more defenders.
—Edward Abbey

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Trio of National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore America’s national parks in an RV.

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

Many of the busiest national parks experience a major drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter.

With snowbirds in mind, the following are my picks for a trio of national parks that are best to visit during winter.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases.

Here the lower Colorado Desert meets the higher Mojave Desert, forming granite monoliths, rugged mountains, and surreal geology that lures hikers, desert rats, and rock climbers from around the world.

The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the Mojave and Colorado deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. The Colorado Desert in the eastern section offers low desert formations and plant life, such as creosote bushes, spidery ocotillo, and jumping cholla cactus; the higher, cooler, and wetter Mojave in the western part is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Cold nights and warm days make for ideal treks into palm-lined oases. Or, bike the dirt roads and watch the climbers scale the rocky heights.

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Zion National Park is getting more difficult to navigate with its single road into the canyon and a mandatory shuttle system during the busy months.

Exploring Zion Canyon, center of park activity, during the off-season gives one the flexibility that is impossible seven months of the year. From April through October, private cars are prohibited in the canyon, and visitors must use park shuttles. With 11,000 daily visitors, it’s hard to dispute the need for such restrictions. Still, it’s nice to be on our own—and free of crowds.

The main canyon in Zion was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that draw rock climbers who savor big walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonaran Desert.

The many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground, instead of growing like a massive trunk of the saguaro. It is a stately plant, with columns rising mostly like, well, the pipes of a church organ.

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. A mature organ-pipe cactus may be more than 100 years old. A mature saguaro can live to be more than 150. Foothill palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, triangle-leaf bursage, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape.

The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way dirt road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the park.

Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

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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2 National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Touring America’s national parks in an RV can be a transcendent experience.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore the great outdoors. Although some parks may have limited access to certain areas due to ice and a heavy accumulation of snow, many of the unique natural environments found in America’s national parks are best appreciated during the winter months.

Many of the most famous national parks experience a drastic drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions. In fact, you may just have the park mostly to yourself.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter. This is a perfect time to visit one or more national parks.

With snowbirds and Winter Texans in mind, the following are my picks for the two best national parks to visit this winter.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley. The very name repels. So do the superlatives: the hottest (134 degrees in 1913), driest (less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall), and lowest (282 feet below sea level) of the U.S. national parks. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.

Its forbidding name, suggests a vast stretch of nothingness. Boring. Bleak. Empty. Right?

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes.
Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead wrong. Despite its inhospitable name, Death Valley National Park can, in fact, be quite welcoming, especially during the cooler winter months.

With average temperatures that hover around 120 degrees during the summertime, Death Valley National Park is best visited during the winter months. The typically harsh environment of Death Valley is much more inviting during the winter, with temperatures in the low 70s during the day and the high 30s during the night.

The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley offers everything from snow-covered mountain peaks to sand dunes. It’s a spot unique on Earth, with high, snow-frosted 11,000-foot peaks towering over a valley that drops 282 feet below sea-level.

There are whimsical salt formations, reflective pools, and hidden side canyons. There are date palms, historic borax mining equipment, and volcanic craters.

Take a tour through Scotty’s Castle, one man’s dream retreat, or drive to Dante’s View as the sun leaves the valley. It’s a big park, with lots to see, and it’s a lot easier when the temperatures are in two, not three, digits.

Unlike many other parks, Death Valley’s peak season is during the winter and early spring. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least-crowded. It is advisable to make camping reservations in advance.

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain.

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round.

Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two, so bring extra layers.

Rio Grande Village is the center of visitor activity during the winter months. Great scenery, warm temperatures, abundant wildlife, and full visitor services make this a must-see location for any Big Bend outing. Rio Grande Village has an NPS campground and visitor center, and a concession-operated camper store, laundry, and shower facility. The store also runs the Rio Grande Village RV Campground, the only campground with full hook-ups.

Ringed by massive cliffs and amazing views, the Chisos Basin is a year-round focal point. Numerous trails begin in the basin, and range from short walks to longer backcountry hikes. The paved, 0.3 mile Window View Trail provides an excellent place to view the mountain peaks or watch an evening sunset.

A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a number of services in the Basin including the lodge, restaurant, and camper store. A 60-site campground is located in the lower portion of the developed area.

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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Top 4 Snowbird Destinations

There’s nothing quite like venturing south in your recreational vehicle when winter’s northern wind starts to stir and snow starts to blow.

Snowbirds and full-time RVs in their winter home at Bella Terra RV Resort, Gulf Shores, Alabama  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Snowbirds and full-time RVs in their winter home at Bella Terra RV Resort, Gulf Shores, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Atlantic to the Pacific, there are numerous warm, welcoming, and breathtakingly-beautiful places to explore as a southbound snowbird. With many snowbird friendly RV resorts offering wonderful amenities and gorgeous views, there’s never been a better time to head south.

Following is a look at four exciting RV destinations for snowbirds to check out:

Bella Terra of Gulf Shores (Alabama)

Located near the sugar white sands of the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast, Bella Terra Luxury Resort in Foley, Alabama, boasts a 5-star rating with true southern charm. Bella Terra of Gulf Shores is an upscale Class A motorhome resort community designed with the discriminating RVer in mind.

Bella Terra’s amenities include a 6,000 square foot Grand Clubhouse, fenced-in dog park, stocked lake, fully-appointed fitness center, infinity-edge pool, Jacuzzi, private movie theatre, business center, and croquet court.

The RV lots offered for both sale and rent include professional landscaping for privacy, concrete pads, built-in patios, full service utility hook-ups with views of the stocked lake and lush foliage. The over-sized Class A RV lots—some as large as 5,000 square feet—are designed to satisfy your Class A RV motor coach needs.

Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission.
Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort (Texas)

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort is one of the most unique RV Resorts in South Texas and is part of the 2,600-acre Master Planned Community of Bentsen Palm Development.

Bentsen Palm Village is located in South Mission at the entrance to World Birding Center headquarters at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Bentsen Palm Village is only minutes from shopping, medical facilities, and easy access to Expressway 83.

Bentsen Palm Village offers over 250 large pull-through and back-in sites, full hookups, rental cabins and casitas, and native landscaping. Super Sites offer a 10×12 storage building that can be locked and secured when necessary. Resort amenities include a Club house, pool and spa, fitness center, dog agility course, woodshop, craft room, and miles and miles of hike and bike trails.

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canyon Vistas RV Resort (Arizona)

Canyon Vistas RV Resort is nestled at the base of the breathtaking Superstition Mountains in the exclusive Gold Canyon area southeast of Phoenix. Here you’re beyond the noise and congestion of the city, yet minutes from shopping and entertainment. Enjoy a morning walk or bike ride amid stately hundred year old Saguaro cactus or keep in shape at the state-of-the-art Fitness Center. Meet your friends for a round of golf at the pitch and putt course followed by a cool drink on the expansive covered veranda, soothed by refreshing desert breezes. Go hiking, boating, and horseback riding in the nearby mountains.

Amenities include fitness center, ceramics, wood carving, lapidary, pickleball, computer lab and classes, quilting and sewing room, pools and spas, tennis courts, and pet area.

Indian Waters RV Resort (California)

Indian Waters RV Resort and Cottages is located in the Coachella Valley City of Indio, an area that includes the desert cities of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indian Wells, and La Quinta.

Recently renovated, this beautiful property has added cottages, a second pool, lighted pickleball courts, 50 amp electric and city sewer service to all sites, resurfacing of roads and sites, enhanced Wi-Fi, and a complete make-over for the large clubhouse.

Today, Indian Waters with its desirable location and numerous amenities, is one of the best and most affordable, five star, state-of-the-art RV resorts in the Palm Springs/Coachella Valley area.

Indian Waters RV Resort
Enjoying the Southern California sunshine at Indian Waters RV Resort in Indio. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 274 full service sites with 50/30-amp electric, Indian Waters RV Resort and Cottages offers two distinct landscaping themes for its concrete level sites: grass and desert landscape. All sites have views of the majestic mountains or nearby ponds, towering eucalyptus trees, or gardens. All sites are convenient to the two improved bathhouse and laundry facilities. The typical RV site is approximately 35 feet wide and 60 feet deep with two concrete pads, one for your RV and one for your toad/tow vehicle.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

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When Snowbirds Become Staybirds

The demographic commonly known as snowbirds, remains an established population through the US Sunbelt each winter season. As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape frigid, windy, icy, and snowy climes at home by migrating southward each year.

When Snowbirds Become Staybirds
When Snowbirds Become Staybirds

Then almost as a rite of summer the migratory trend reverses itself and snowbirds head back north from whence they came. Or do they, anymore?

In other words, they may be staying for the summer.

In an attempt to track snowbirds flocking in and out of the state, Arizona media outlets have initiated a project to determine whether the term snowbird and all that it implies is still accurate.

They want to find out if those who have come to be known as snowbirds truly keep two residences and treat them as two separate brick-and-mortar homes. Or, one permanent residence and RV south for winter.

Or, has that pattern altered? Have snowbirds become staybirds?

Do they live in Arizona most of the year and take off for several months to visit their hometowns or travel elsewhere when the sun blazes in the Southwest, and then return to their yearlong home in Arizona?

Undoubtedly, these same questions have been pondered in Florida, Texas, and southern California.

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
When Snowbirds Become Staybirds. Pictured above Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For years now, the migratory patterns and numbers of snowbirds have been somewhat a mystery. Arizona State University, which used to track snowbirds flocking in and out of the state, no longer does so.

A local survey by the Ahwatukee Foothills News suggests that the number of Arizona winter visitors is not decreasing and that more of them are becoming yearlong Arizona residents.

The Valley’s proliferation of single-family homes have made research more difficult than it was when most snowbirds stayed in an RV/MH park for four to six months in places like Yuma, Tucson, and Apache Junction.

In an attempt to shed some light on an issue that has significant cultural, social, and economic impact on the entire state, various media began by asking questions of a variety of people, groups, and organizations to determine how things have changed since ASU last charted the Snowbird pattern.

Did you start out as a Snowbird and end up a Staybird?

Phoenix Metro RV Park caters exclusively to an over-55 age group. Jan Venard, the park’s assistant manager, noted that the business has been at its peak during recent snowbird seasons, but almost everybody that can leave departs for the summer. Venard, who been at the park for three years, hasn’t noticed significant changes during her tenure.

On the Colorado River in the southwest corner of Arizona, Yuma’s been at the crossroads for centuries. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
On the Colorado River in the southwest corner of Arizona, Yuma’s been at the crossroads for centuries. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Diane Rossell has managed the Tempe Travel Trailer Villa long enough to see the changes at the macro level. She also agreed that winter business has boomed in the past four years. The most significant change, however, is the increase in summer residents. According to Rossell, usually 60 out of 160 lots remain vacant during the summer, but in the past four years, only 30 lots have been vacant. Instead of maintaining their original home base, many of them have elected to reside permanently in the RV park.

Contempo Tempe, another RV park, also said fewer winter residents are leaving Arizona during the summer, about 15 percent compared to about 25 percent in the past.

Supplementing information from mobile home communities, senior activity centers offer a softer angle on snowbird trends.

The Ahwatukee Recreation Center gives retirees the opportunity to socialize and learn new hobbies. The recreational center noted that while it has less participation during the summer, the discrepancy is not as big as it used to be. The findings of the Ahwatukee Recreational Center would seem to corroborate the observations of local RV parks.

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

The evidence indicates that the snowbirds haven’t diminished. If anything, out-of-state visitors have increased their presence. The only change is that many of them are settling down on a permanent basis.

While they offer an indication on their own, such information would be bolstered with data such as seasonal delivery stop/starts by the U.S. Postal Service. But those figures simply are not available.

The same could be said of utility shutoffs. But the companies that deliver gas, electricity, and water do not keep that kind of data.

So, where can one turn to for a clearer picture of current summertime population trends?

The U.S. Census Bureau might be one place. Again, the data is inconclusive.

So, while the question may not have a definitive overall answer at this point, there are indicators. And there are plenty of folks who would like to know more.

Worth Pondering…

A saguaro can fall for a snowman but where would they set up house?

—Jodi Picoult

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Christmas Message from Vogel Talks RVing

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Indian Waters RV Resort
As we approach Christmas Eve we’re in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine with Indian Waters RV Resort our winter roost. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s Christmas week, the most wonderful time of the year.

Merry Christmas fellow RVers, campers, snowbirds and Winter Texans, wanna-bes, birders, photographers, hikers, and everyone who loves the great out-of-doors…and all readers!

Thank you for your readership this past year!

Best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a safe and happy holiday season.

May the miracle of this wonderful season fill your heart with peace and happiness and bless your life throughout the year.

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

We sometimes lose the focus of this holiday season. Shopping, wrapping presents, and sending Christmas cards. Planning dinner, cleaning, and decorating often distracts from the reason for the Season.

While in Quartzsite, check out the Hi Jolly Monument which honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert.
While in Quartzsite, check out the Hi Jolly Monument which honors the Arab camel driver, Hadji Ali, who took part in an unsuccessful 1850’s U.S. War Department attempt to use camels as beasts of burden in the desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As we approach Christmas Eve we’re in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty tamales and other south-of-the border holiday treats—and the famous Coachella Medjool dates.

As usual my regular postings will continue daily throughout Christmas week and into the New Year.

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

May Peace be your gift at Christmas and your blessing all year through!

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

I’ll be dreaming of fabulous RV destinations I’d love to visit,

Acadia, Mount Rainier, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. Watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds in the Rio Grande Valley. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

cackling like contented

chickens under the hot Arizona sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

gray cold fronts of International Falls,

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

fifth wheel trailers, and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

Credit: mcallencvb.com
Credit: mcallencvb.com

in the clubhouse by the artificial tree

reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

May the joy of today, bring forth happiness for tomorrow—and may the cold Alberta air stay up north!

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Death Valley National Park: Hottest, Driest, Lowest

Death Valley. The very name repels. So do the superlatives: the hottest (134 degrees in 1913), driest (less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall), and lowest (282 feet below sea level) of the U.S. national parks. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.

Dante's View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Its forbidding name, suggests a vast stretch of nothingness. Boring. Bleak. Empty. Right?

Dead wrong. Despite its inhospitable name, Death Valley National Park can, in fact, be quite welcoming.

Death Valley National Park has 3.3 million acres of desert and mountains, making it the largest national park in the contiguous United States. The park sits in a low depression east of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Though Death Valley measures in at just 12 miles wide, the expanse covers 130 miles in length. Telescope Peak marks the highest elevation in the park at 11,039 feet, while the lowest spot, Badwater, is down at 282 feet below sea level, the fifth lowest point in the world.

A 600-foot-deep freshwater lake once filled the valley floor, but that water dried up about 10,000 years ago. Now the valley floor is a salt pan, which contributed to the naming of the spot. It is said a man who was sent out to find all the watering holes in Death Valley could not get his horse to drink because of the salt content, and called it “bad water.”

In 1849, pioneers trekked through with covered wagons. Ironically, while some pioneers died while crossing other areas, including the Sierra Nevada, no one died in Death Valley, despite its inhospitable conditions. When a woman said “Goodbye, Death Valley” as she departed, the misnomer stuck.

Furnace Creek Ranch boasts the lowest-elevation golf course in the world
Furnace Creek Ranch boasts the lowest-elevation golf course in the world at 214 feet below sea level, tennis courts, spring-fed swimming pools, horseback riding, hiking trails, and carriage rides. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In later years, the area provided a source for borax mined for use in glass, porcelain, ceramics, detergents, and other items. Twenty-mule teams pulled wagonloads of borax from the mines to the railroads. Gold and silver were also mined in the valley.

Contrary to its name, Death Valley teems with life. The Park contains an amazing variety of terrain, historic sites, plants, and animals for outdoor adventurers to explore. Amazingly more than 1,000 species of plants (50 of them found nowhere else in the world), 51 species of mammals, more than 300 types of birds, and even some fish call this area home. And with the darkest nights of any national park, it’s perfect for sky gazing.

The possibilities for discovery are endless. From the magical burst of wildflower blooms in spring to the allure of ghost towns, historic mining operations, and dramatic landscapes of rugged canyons, mountains, and valleys, Death Valley National Park offers something for everyone.

Spring is the most popular time to visit Death Valley. Besides warm and sunny days, the possibility of spring wildflowers is a big attraction. If the previous winter brought rain, the desert can put on an impressive floral display, usually peaking in late March to early April.

Autumn arrives in late October, with warm but pleasant temperatures and generally clear skies. Winter has cool but pleasant days and chilly nights. With snow capping the high peaks and low angled winter light, this season is especially beautiful for exploring the valley. Summer starts early in Death Valley. By May the valley is too hot for many visitors.

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes.
Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Wine Ridge RV Resort in Pahrump, Nevada, as our home base, we explored the southeastern portion of Death Valley National Park including stops at Dante’s View, Zabrieski Point, Furnace Creek, and Badwater Basin.

Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater.

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. Everywhere you look, you see bone-dry, finely-sculpted, golden-brown-black badlands.

The National Park Service maintains a large visitors center at Furnace Creek, a good place to begin an exploration of Death Valley. There are several nice campgrounds throughout the valley, but the three at Furnace Creek are the most popular.

Nearby is Furnace Creek Ranch, which boasts the lowest-elevation golf course in the world at 214 feet below sea level, tennis courts, spring-fed swimming pools, horseback riding, hiking trails, and carriage rides.

salt flats at Badwarwe Basin
Walk onto the crusted salt flats at Badwarwe Basin for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eighteen miles south of Furnace Creek at 282 feet below sea level is Badwater, probably the best known and most visited place in Death Valley. Walk onto the crusted salt flats for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley and get a closer look at salt crystals. They feel soft and springy underfoot.

Did You Know?

In 1929, no rain was recorded in Death Valley. From 1931 through 1934, a 40 month period, only 0.64 inches of rain fell.

Details

Death Valley National Park

Established: National Monument, February 11, 1933; National Park, October 31, 1994

Size: 3,372,401.96 acres

Vehicle Entrance Fee: $20 for 7 Days

2013 Visitor Count: 951,972

Worth Pondering…

But it was so hot that swallows in full flight fell to the earth dead and when and I went out to read the thermometer with a wet Turkish towel on my head, it was dry before I returned.

—Oscar Denten, caretaker of what is now the Furnace Creek Ranch on the record hot day of 134°F (56°C) in July 1913

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Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors

At America’s newest National Park, the possibilities for discovery are limitless.

Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The remains of an ancient volcanic field consisting of massive monoliths, rocky spires, pinnacles, red crags, and talus cave, rise out of the meditteranean chaparral-covered Gabilan Mountains, a sanctuary for the California condor.

The first 2,500 acres of the rugged Pinnacles were made a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. Since 1908, the monument significantly increased in size to 26,000 acres and on January 10, 2013, Pinnacles became America’s 59th national park.

Hiking and rock climbing are popular activities in Pinnacles National Park, as is watching for the majestic California condor overhead. Pinnacles National Park is a nesting place for the endangered soaring bird, the largest in North America.

By the early 1980s, the California condor population had dwindled to just 22. The birds were placed in captive breeding programs, and Pinnacles became one of the release sites. Other condors from the Big Sur area also frequent the area, which increases the odds of seeing one of these rare creatures.

Remarkable rocks sculpted by 14 million years of volcanic turmoil. The rocky spires and pinnacles have long attracted rock climbers. So have talus caves (formed when massive boulders tumbled into narrow canyons) inhabited by protected bat communities.

A well-maintained 30-mile trail system, partially created in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps, beckons hikers to this rugged landscape. Wildflowers bloom in the spring, and the temperate climate makes for year-round exploration opportunities.

Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rock formations of Pinnacles National Park divide the park into east and west access points which are connected by trails. But, there is no road connecting the east and west entrances of the park.

The eastern access road (CA 146) branches off CA 25, 30 miles south of Hollister, and leads up a wide, partly wooded valley alongside Bear Creek, and past the park campground. The mountains are visible to the west though they seem unremarkable from a distance as the volcanic formations are hidden behind more conventional rocks.

Pinnacles Campground offers 149 tent, group, and RV sites with 30-amp electric service. Water is located throughout the campground. Showers and a dump station are available. During spring and summer seasons, campers can enjoy the campground swimming pool and ranger programs at the campground amphitheater.

Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The road bends around a side canyon and ends next to the visitor center, just as the main valley (Bear Gulch) starts to become relatively narrow. The center has exhibits, a small selection of books for sale, a public telephone, and flashlights for use in the caves.

The surrounding vegetation is typical of the chaparral zone, mostly small oak trees and bushes, reflecting the low elevation, moderate rainfall, and long hot summers of this part of California. The main hiking area is to the west, further along the canyon—within 2 miles are Bear Gulch Cave, Bear Gulch Reservoir, and many rock climbing sites, while 2 miles further are the extensive formations of the High Peaks. Many trails intersect, allowing for a short loop or a longer all-day hike.

The Bear Gulch Cave provides a home to a colony of Townsend’s big-eared bats as they rest there in winter and raise their young in the late spring and summer. The colony in the Bear Gulch Cave is the largest maternity colony between San Francisco and Mexico.

The lower half of the Bear Gulch Cave is usually open from mid-July through mid-May each year, depending on the presence of the colony of bats. The entire cave is closed from mid-May to mid-July while the bats are raising their young.

Bring a flashlight if your hike leads through a cave.

The west entrance has just a ranger station plus parking, and is reached by a narrow, 12 mile road from Soledad that is not recommended for RVs or other large vehicles. From roads end, 3 trails depart to the north, west, and east; the most popular routes are the Juniper Canyon Trail to the High Peaks, and the Balconies Trail which leads to volcanic rocks and a talus cave.

Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pinnacles National Park: Rocks, Caves & Condors © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did You Know?

Pinnacles, Muir Woods, and the Grand Canyon were all set aside as national monuments in the span of seven days in January 1908 by Teddy Roosevelt.

Details

Pinnacles National Park

Entrance Fees: $10/vehicle (valid for 7 days); all federal lands passes accepted

Phone: (831) 389-4486

Mailing Address: 5000 Hwy 146, Paicines, CA 95043

Website: www.nps.gov/pinn

Worth Pondering…

May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.

—Edward Abbey

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North-South Snowbird RV Routes

As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year.

RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino at Redding, California,
RV Park at Rolling Hills Casino at Redding, California, is a great travel stop on I-5. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Selecting a balmy snowbird roost is when all the fun begins. Choice is in rich supply.

Many snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the Northwest tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada, and California; those from the Midwest flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast head for Florida.

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Choice of route is also subject to your own inclinations. Do you want to sightsee along the way, or—as might be the case in mid-winter—do you prefer to go hell-bent-for- leather to the Sunbelt?

A successful—and stress free—trip requires a little homework  before you leave.

Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses.

While you’re at it, be sure to account for the changing weather conditions you’ll encounter on your travels. If you haven’t given yourself enough time to avoid the first winter storm, plan accordingly. Allow yourself sufficient time for cold-weather driving, and bring ample warm-weather clothes to get you through the journey.

After settling into Flag City RV Resort, a 5-star RV park, we started our seven-day tour. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After settling into Flag City RV Resort, a 5-star RV park, we started our seven-day tour of the Lodi (California) wine area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since the interstate highways are generally well-maintained and have priority for snow clearing and sanding, they’re a good bet for safe winter travel.

With many interstate highways in America, the price one pays for fast speed convenience is a lack of variation in the scenery one passes through. North-south interstates are different, partly because they are north-south routes and therefore pass through varying climatic conditions and altitude changes.

Interstates 95 and 75 are the two preferred north-south travel routes from the northeast to Florida because they are direct and provide a wide range of service facilities.

“Along Interstate-95” and “Along Interstate-75” are two popular spiral bound mile-by-mile guidebooks with practical information on these two major north-south routes.

I-95 is the longest north-south interstate in the US, traveling through 15 states. It is the main highway on the East Coast of the U. S., paralleling the Atlantic Ocean from Maine to Florida and serving some of the best-known cities in the country including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., and Miami.

Whiskey Flats RV Park (Hawthorne, Nevada) is conveniently located mid-way between Reno and Las Vegas
Many snowbirds from the Northwest use US Highway 95 for their north-south travel route. Whiskey Flats RV Park (Hawthorne, Nevada) is conveniently located mid-way between Reno and Las Vegas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Snowbirds who RV south for the winter from the northwest have a choice of several routes with most opting for I-5 or 1-15 for a major portion of the journey. But many RVers ask, “Isn’t there a better route?” That seems to be a common question on RV forums.

Although friends have shared little short-cuts with us (such as leaving I-15 at Dillon and going 41/55 to Whitehall and 69 into Boulder, avoiding the big climb to Butte), the result of our conversations and research have shown few strong alternatives to the I-15.

It’s winter, we’re not interested in the icy scenery and we just want to get out of the cold. Getting there is not half the fun. All of this points to the I-15 as the best Snowbird path south from Alberta, Montana, and eastern Idaho.

Snowbirds from the Midwest often use Interstate 35 and a combination of several other interstates and secondary highways to reach their Sunbelt roost.

Plotting a route in common mapping software or relying exclusively on a GPS generally produces the fastest or shortest route, which isn’t necessarily the best winter driving route for RVs.

Orange Groove RV Park, off US-99 in Bakersfield
Orange Groove RV Park, off US-99 in Bakersfield is a popular overnight stop for snowbirds. It’s a 40-acre orchard where you park your RV between row after row of beautiful orange trees. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Watch the weather and road reports. Leave when you have a three-day window of good weather and clear roads.

Mountain driving, with its steep grades and hairpin turns, can be scary enough in the summer especially for those accustomed to gunbarrel-straight highways. However, it’s really the ice and snow that are the big concern.

If you get caught in a winter storm, wait it out and give the road crews time to clear the highway.

Drive carefully leaving extra room between vehicles and allow extra time to stop.

If the weather looks like it will be getting bad, or becomes terrible overnight, then stay put. Much better to spend an extra day in a campground than in a cold RV stranded on a snow-bound highway.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

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