7 Family Summer Destinations in Southwestern Utah

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

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

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park – Visitor Center and Campground

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park – Rim Trail

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

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

Bryce Canyon National Park – Queens Garden and Navajo Loop Trail

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

Cedar Breaks National Monument 

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

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

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

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

Zion National Park – Visitors Center

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

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

The trailhead is across the highway from Zion Lodge

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

Zion National Park – Kolob Canyons

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 fee from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park's most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $25).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

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 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 Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

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Choosing Your Perfect RV Camping Destination

A key factor in planning any vacation or road trip is the RV parks and campgrounds.

A top rated RV resort, A+ Motel & RV Resort is located in Cajun Country near Lake Charles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A top rated RV resort, A+ Motel & RV Resort is located in Cajun Country near Lake Charles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Choosing an RV park sight unseen can be like playing the lottery. Many parks and resorts feature a variety of amenities, entertainment, and fun activities for the entire family and cultivate an atmosphere that’s welcoming for all ages enabling families to enjoy quality time together.

But not all RV parks and campgrounds are created equal and no one park is perfect for everyone.

Before leaving home, take the time to check out the best camping parks along your intended route and at your camping destination.

Citing GuestRated as the source, Wicked Good Travel Tips notes that only 34 of an estimated 4,000 campgrounds and RV parks earned an ‘A’ rating in 2014—less than one in 100 parks.

GuestRated.com surveys guest satisfaction using an online process for RVers to review and rate their camping experiences and provide feedback available to other campers and park owners. Of those campgrounds and RV parks, eight emerged as super-stars by earning an ‘A’ rating for 6 years or more.

A top rated RV resort, Wine Ridge RV Resort is located in Pahrump, Nevada. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A top rated RV resort, Wine Ridge RV Resort is located in Pahrump, Nevada. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While social media has a meaningful role to play in assisting campers select the “perfect camping site” a less subjective, opinion-based rating scale is still a key determinant of quality RV parks and campgrounds.

Our go-to resource in selecting RV parks and resorts, the Good Sam Campground Directory uses a three-number rating that assesses the park’s amenities, cleanliness, and environment with each rating category measured on a scale of 1 to 10.

Less than 1 percent of parks or campgrounds receive a 10/10*/10 rating which indicates superior facilities that are well maintained, clean, well-appointed restrooms, and a highly appealing appearance. Campgrounds are inspected annually by RVers for RVers.

Of the eight campgrounds and RV parks that emerged as GuestRated super-stars, only two received the coveted Good Sam10/10*/10 rating in their 2015 Campground Directory: Lake George RV Park, Lake George, New York, and Ocean Lakes Family Campground, Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Additional details on these two parks and the other six is available in an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing.

A top rated RV park, Seven Feathers RV Resort is located in southern Oregon off I-5. © Rex Vogel, all rights
A top rated RV park, Seven Feathers RV Resort is located in southern Oregon off I-5. © Rex Vogel, all rights

What we like and prefer in an RV park may be totally different from what your family desires. Given different personalities and wants and needs of RVers, no one park can be all things to all people, but many can fulfill the majority of wants and needs.

While we have not visited any of these eight campgrounds and RV parks, we have personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping at 14 of the 2015 “Best of the Best”, the top-rated Good Sam RV Parks and Campgrounds (10/10*/10).

A listing of these outstanding parks follow:

Alabama: Lake Osprey RV Park, Elberta

Arizona: Sundance 1 RV Resort, Casa Grande

California: Indian Water RV Resort & Cottages, Indio

Louisiana: Cajun Palms RV Resort, Henderson

Louisiana: A+ Motel & RV Resort, Lake Charles

Massachusetts: Normandy Farms Family Camping Resort, Foxboro

A top rated RV park, Cajun Palms RV Resort is located in Cajun Country at Henderson. © Rex Vogel, all rights
A top rated RV park, Cajun Palms RV Resort is located in Cajun Country at Henderson. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Nevada: Las Vegas RV Resort, Las Vegas

Nevada: Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump

Oregon: Seven Feathers RV Resort, Canyonville

Texas: Buckhorn Lake Resort, Kerrville

Texas: Llano Grande Lake Park Resort & Country Club MHP, Mercedes

Texas: Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort, Mission

Texas: Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca

Washington: Columbia Sun RV Resort, Kennewick

And yes, we would return to these parks in a heart-beat.

You decide. Remember, getting there is half the fun.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Lewis Carrol

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Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners

Planning to take your pet camping with you this summer?

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Then you are in good company.

More and more campers and RVers are traveling with their pets and finding it makes camping even more enjoyable. Camping and pets are, in most cases, a good mix.

According the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), more than 50 percent of RV travelers bring pets on their travels. Among these pet owners, 78 percent bring dogs, 15 percent travel with cats, and the remaining pet owners travel with birds or other small pets.

And in the travel industry at large, more and more families are traveling with their pets and experts say pet travel is fast becoming a multi-billion dollar industry due to the popular trend.

Pet Relocation reports that 60 percent of families traveled with their pet in 2010 and that number continues to grow.

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling with your pet can be rewarding for you and your family’s pet but the key to a successful camping trip or any mode of vacation travel is advanced planning and preparation, common sense, and sometimes a dose of creativity. Only friendly, non-aggressive dogs should be brought to campgrounds.

The most important thing to remember before making plans, is to make sure your pet is healthy enough to travel. A pre-vacation check-up with your veterinarian is just what the doctor ordered to make sure Fido or Fluffy is up to snuff and ready to hit the road. Make sure your pet is up to date on all shots and bring copies of vaccination records with you, as you never know when you might need them.

When packing for pets, it’s important to remember food and water dishes, an extra collar and leash, licenses, medicines or supplements, brushes, tie outs, shampoo, and something familiar from home like a toy or blanket. If a dog is comfortable sleeping in a crate at home, that should be brought along too. Consider giving your pets bottled water for continued consistency.

Ensure your pet is properly identified. Also, obtain identification with the address of your destination.

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Carry a photo of your pet. You’ll be glad you did if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of making, photocopying, and posting “lost pet” notices.

Bring along your pet’s bed and favorite toys so it will feel comfortable and at home on the road. If traveling with a feline friend, think through the cat-box arrangement. Having extra litter, a covered litter box, plastic bags for disposal, scoop, and baking soda to cover the bottom of the box will keep mess and odor to a minimum.

Your dog feels as cramped as you do after hours of traveling. It’s important that you walk your canine pet when you take rest stops. If your pet is a cat, walks aren’t an issue, but plenty of stretching room is.

To make camping with your pet an exciting experience for the both of you, be sure to research the campsite ahead of time, take note of any restrictions or regulations, and bring the essentials along with you.

When registering at a campground or RV park check the location of the nearest veterinary doctor or clinic and how to get there.

After settling into a camp or RV site with pets, it is important to be a responsible camper and pet owner. This includes cleaning up after pets, keeping them leashed, and making sure they stay out of prohibited areas.

Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping Travel Tips For Pet Owners © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The most important thing to remember is they are your pets and you must make some changes to your RVing lifestyle to ensure their comfort.

They may have an accident in the RV and you need to accept that. They may require medical attention that could extend a stay when you are traveling. You need be flexible in your plans to accommodate for pets when you make the decision to bring them along on your travels and camping trips.

If you plan ahead and are prepared, camping can be a rewarding, memorable experience for both owners and pets.

Worth Pondering…

A dog reflects the family life. Whoever saw a frisky dog in a gloomy family, or a sad dog in a happy one? Snarling people have snarling dogs, dangerous people have dangerous ones.
―Arthur Conan Doyle, The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes

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Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood

Magnificent Monument Valley is not a national or state park but, with 91,696 acres, it is a small part of the great Navajo Nation that covers much of northeastern Arizona and stretches into Utah and New Mexico.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Established in the early 1920s by Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone, nicknamed Mike. For half a century they maintained a warm relationship with the Navajo, trading with them and finding markets for their handmade items, helping lift them from poverty that plagued the reservation.

And then came the Depression, hitting the valley with a brutal vengeance. There was a terrible drought in 1934 and then another one in 1936. Income from the trading post diminished to virtually nothing.

Then, in 1938, with times desperate and conditions bleak, Harry Goulding took his one-in-a-million shot to Hollywood and what he managed to do reverberates to this day.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Armed with a photo album of 8-by-10 scenes of the valley made by famous photographer and close friend, Josef Muench, the Gouldings drove to Hollywood and sold movie director John Ford on the idea of using Monument Valley as a backdrop for Stagecoach, released in 1939. It won two Academy Awards and made John Wayne a star. The connection forged in that office on that day between Ford and Harry Goulding was the beginning of a new era in the American Western.

It’s said that when John Wayne first saw the site, he declared: “So this is where God put the West.” Millions would agree.

Over the next 25 years, John Ford would go on to shoot six more westerns in Monument Valley: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In addition to introducing the valley’s spectacular scenery to an international audience, each movie pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Trading Post is now a sprawling complex of 73 motel rooms, a campground, and a souvenir shop. (Harry Goulding died in 1981, Mike in 1992.) The original 1925 trading post has been turned into a museum. Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is both a showcase of varied artifacts and a glimpse into a bygone era.

Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is comprised of several different areas. The first is the Trading Post Bull Pen, where the locals would bring their goods to trade for items: kitchen wares, canned goods, material and threads, and even guns.

The next section of the museum is the Ware Room where surplus and supplies were stored: bags of raw wool, crates of coffee, and saddles. Today the Ware Room is filled with photographs of the early days at Goulding’s and pictures of local Navajos from the 20th Century.

The Josef Muench Room boasts a variety of artwork and photography, principally, that of famous photographer and close Goulding friend, Josef Muench.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Movie Room was originally built as the mess hall for the crew of The Harvey Girls; today it is filled with movie stills, call sheets, and posters. Always playing in the Movie Room is a classic John Ford/John Wayne film.

The Living Quarters is upstairs and has been restored as closely as possible to how the Goulding’s home appeared in the late 1940s and early 50s.

Captain Nathan Brittles’ Cabin, also called John Wayne’s Cabin, is located just behind the museum. In actuality, it was Mike Goulding’s potato cellar, where she stored her fruits, vegetables, and other perishables.

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room while experiencing the beauty, culture, and history of the true American West. The dining room offers Navajo and American Southwestern cuisine in a historical, awe-inspiring setting.

Goulding’s Campground offers 66 full-service campsites nestled amid red rocks.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

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Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favorite Drive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

Excuse me…but is this Heaven?

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Blanco: A State Park Comeback

Blanco, an unassuming small town in the Texas Hill Country, takes its name from the local river, which begins its journey in higher elevations west of town. From there, the Blanco meanders in an easterly direction past thriving lavender farms before pooling in town at Blanco State Park.

Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At the park, swimmers, canoeists, and anglers enjoy the river’s spring-fed waters. Pecan, common bald cypress, sycamore, cottonwood, box-elder maple, and other trees growing along the river’s edge and in the campground provide shade and a comforting presence for families who rest, play, barbecue, hike, and camp within the park’s compact 105 acres.

When the Blanco River crested at 40 feet thanks to more than 12 inches of rain during Memorial Day weekend, several areas of Central Texas, including Blanco State Park, experienced severe flooding and damage.

But, this popular riverside state park has made a big comeback. After more than two months of closure for cleanup and repairs, Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1.

As before, park visitors are allowed to camp and use the south side of the park for day use activities such as picnicking, fishing, hiking, and biking. All other parts of the park, including the north side day-use area near the dam, will remain closed to the public until the grounds can be made safe for visitors.

Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blanco State Park reopened portions of the park to visitors August 1. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Due to damage to the dam the water level is very low, and is not flowing over the dam at this time.

“Although the park has been closed over the past couple of months, park staff and volunteers have been working hard to get the park back open at least partially,” said Ethan Belicek, Blanco State Park superintendent, in a TPWD State Parks Division news release.

“We’re excited to get visitors back in the park to enjoy for the remainder of the summer.”

Due to damaged check valves in the dam, which resulted in water loss in the swimming area, Belicek cautioned visitors to call the park to check water levels prior to arrival.

“We hope to make that repair within the next few weeks, which will allow the swimming area to resume normal levels,” he said.

Originally developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1934, most of their creative work still exists in the form of an arched stone bridge, rock fences, native rock picnic tables, and stone couches. The shady rock seating is positioned among native pecan trees, providing a great spot for picnics.

The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure, was  built in 1885. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure, was built in 1885. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $17-$23 plus the $4 per person park entrance fee. Nine campsites offering 30-amp electric service, water, and sewer are available for $20 nightly; eight sites offering 50-amp electric service, water, and sewer are available for $23; and 12 sites offering electric service and water are available for $17. Weekly and monthly rates are available during the non-peak season (November through February).

Wi-Fi is also available within the park.

The Town Creek Nature Trail, a landscaped, quarter-mile walking path lined with native plants and large live-oak trees, connects the state park to Blanco’s downtown square. The Old Blanco County Courthouse, a striking Second Empire-style structure built in 1885, is the square’s most prominent building and anchors a historic district (listed in the National Register of Historic Places) that includes 46 properties. Many of the old buildings house restaurants, cafés, antique shops, outlets for locally-produced arts and crafts, and other enterprises.

Throughout the town, century-old limestone buildings are a testament to the German colony that settled in the river valley.

The baked products at Deutsch Apple embodies the home-baked taste everybody loves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The baked products at Deutsch Apple embodies the home-baked taste everybody loves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Among my favorite downtown indulgences, the Deutsch Apple is about a mile southeast of Blanco’s courthouse square at the intersection of Loop 163 and RR 165. Items baked fresh daily include apple pie, pecan pie, apple-pecan cake, and apple-pecan muffins.

Meanwhile, looking at the statewide picture, only four Texas state parks remain closed out of more than 50 that were impacted during May flooding events; Cedar Hill State Park, Lake Somerville State Park (all units), Lake Whitney State Park, and Ray Roberts Lake State Park (all units). Damage assessments and repairs are under way at those sites.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

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No Regrets Camping: How Not To Enjoy a Camping Trip

You don’t have to be the Born Survivor to enjoy a camping trip; there are options for every camping skill level and travel taste.

Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Laura S. Walker State Park, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Camping choices range from RV parks and resorts to the bare basics often found at national forest campgrounds or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) dispersed camping areas.

Whatever your preferences, here are 15 bad moves make while camping.

1. Ignore fire bans. As awesome as smores are, adhere to campground rules regarding fires. If the authorities in charge of the campground or national forest say no fires, they mean no fires. It is your responsibility to be fire safe when camping. Before you go, check to see if there are fire bans in place where you plan to visit, and act accordingly.

2. Gather wood without checking. Even when fires are allowed, gathering of wood may not be. Ask first, and then gather only down and dead wood in designated areas. Never cut live trees or branches from live trees.

3. Start a fire with gasoline. Assuming that there is no burn ban, you should be prepared to start your fire with appropriate fuel. If not, then we hope you remembered your first aid kit.

Camping at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Roosevelt State Park, Mississippi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Burn wood that does not fit in the fire pit. So you found an awesome log that will burn for hours, only it doesn’t fit in the designated fire ring. And you forgot your hatchet. Your plan is to just lay it across the fire or stick in one end. It will only burn the part in the fire, right?  Wrong! Keep your fire to a manageable size. Make sure children and pets are supervised when near the fire. Never leave your campfire unattended

5. Miss the stars. How you could you ignore this amazing view?! It’s easy when you live in the city to forget that stars even exist. Look up at night when you camp. It’s life-changing.

6. Feed the wildlife. As much as your social media page would be enhanced by photos of chipmunks eating potato chips, nothing about it is good for the animal. And then there are the campers that occupy your site next who will not be able to enjoy a sandwich without being harassed by begging critters.

Camping at Leasburg Dam State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Leasburg Dam State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

7. Play loud music. Camping is about enjoying the natural world. Try listening to the wind in the trees, the gurgling of the stream, or the chattering of the birds. Besides, your music is annoying to the neighbors.

8. Don’t give your kids camp chores to do. Camping is filled with life lessons for children. From setup to cleanup, there are confidence-building tasks that your kids should be doing.

9. Stay glued to your devices. And don’t let your kids do it either. Camping is the perfect time for a digital detox.

10. Watch TV. Stars > Netflix anyhow. Every moment of a camping trip that you spend watching TV is a moment when you could have been enjoying your companions, your surroundings, and the simple serenity of doing nothing.

11. Overestimate your vehicle. Don’t take a two-wheel drive SUV off-roading. Don’t take chances with bald tires or faulty gas gauges. Know what your vehicle can and cannot do and camp somewhere within that range of ability.

12. Overestimate your outdoor skills. Rock climbing on a cruise ship does not qualify you to climb the face of a mountain. Nor does watching two seasons of Naked and Afraid make you a survival expert. Be honest with yourself about your skills and plan accordingly.

Camping at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Deadhorse Point State Park, Utah © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Underestimate the wildlife. That ain’t no teddy! Bears, raccoons, and other wildlife can make your camping trip miserable if you underestimate their survival skills. They can unzip, unlock, and chew through things with astonishing efficiency. Learn how to critter proof your trip before you ever leave home.

14. Leave anything behind. “Leave no trace” is the campers’ creed, and it applies even in organized campgrounds. It means that when you pull out of your campsite, there should not be any sign that you and your group were ever there.

15. Disrespect the campground. Respecting the facility goes beyond simply cleaning up after yourself; it means not carving initials into picnic tables, parking only on designated hard surfaces, and finding a way to leave it better for the next guy, not worse.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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Beat The Heat At Balmorhea

Come August, Texas is a scorcher.

A 3-acre reconstructed ciénega or desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 3-acre reconstructed ciénega or desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But how to deal with the summer’s skyrocking temperatures?

Monstrous glasses of iced tea, squeezed with lemon. Frequent dips in the nearest swimming pool or swimming hole. Screened porches with ceiling fans which keep the mosquitoes and other buzzing nasties at bay while you listen to country music and search for fireflies.

Oh, yes—and a trip to West Texas, where you can escape the sun’s blaze in the most unlikely of places.

No, the mercury has not gone to my head, and, no I’m not confused brought on by excessive rays; nor am I crazy in the throes of a heat stroke. Just bear with me…

Balmorhea State Park, with the crystalline waters of San Solomon Springs hover between 72 and 76 degrees year round, is a most pleasant place to hang out in the anguish of a summer heat wave—or any other season, for that matter. Artesian springs like this gem in the Chihuahuan Desert are rare in the extreme. As an added bonus, the stars emerge big and bright and in the nearby Davis Mountains the temperatures dip into the 60s each night.

Kick back in Mother Nature’s cool West Texas backyard as you dip in these clear, blue-green waters, with tiny fish nipping harmlessly at you as you float.

No Chihuahuan Desert mirage, Balmorhea State Park’s aquamarine, spring-fed pool is nature’s answer to Texas’ summer sun. Set against the deep blue West Texas sky in the yucca-dotted foothills of the Davis Mountains, it feels a whole lot like paradise.

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Swim, scuba dive, or just relax under the trees at this historic park in arid West Texas.

San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To call Balmorhea State Park a popular dive site is an understatement. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, which is the park’s low season, each weekend as many as 10 different dive operations find the friendly waters of San Solomon Springs ideal for certifying divers from entry level (Open Water) to specialties such as Rescue, Photography, Videography, Naturalist, or Night. Each of them brings groups of 10 to 15 dive students.

Call it oasis or paradise; scuba divers call it fun!

Balmorhea State Park, a 49-acre oasis of shimmering water, cottonwood trees, and adobe cottages was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks. All of the CCC buildings are constructed in a Spanish Colonial style with stucco exteriors and tile roofs.

San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks by the CCC. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks by the CCC. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park actually lies in Toyahvale, four miles south west of Balmorea proper.

Balhormea State Park’s enormous 1.75-acre pool, billed as the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, has a huge, underground aquifer system to thank for its clear and cool water. Rain falling on the nearby Davis Mountains seeps underground then flows through porous layers of limestone and emerges through at least nine springs in the middle of the pool at the rate of some 22 to 28 million gallons a day.

San Solomon Springs has provided water for travelers for thousands of years. Artifacts indicate Indians used the spring extensively before white men came to the area. In 1849, the springs were called Mescalero Springs for the Mescalero Apache Indians who watered their horses along its banks. The first settlers were Mexican farmers who used the water for their crops and hand-dug the first irrigation canals.

The park’s name comes from four men’s surnames:  E.D. Balcom, H.R. Morrow, Joe Rhea, and John Rhea: Bal-mor-hea. These men formed an irrigation company in the area in the early 20th century.

The springs and surrounding wetlands are considered a ciénega, or desert wetland. Much of the original desert ecosystem was altered years ago. Today, though, a three-acre, re-created wetlands at the park demonstrates the variety of plant and animal life that once flourished here. Rustling cattails and bulrushes harbor birds, butterflies, tiny pupfish, and other aquatic life.

Camping facilities include restrooms with showers and campsites with a shade shelter, water, electricity, and even cable TV hookups. 34 camp sites are available; six with water, 16 with water and electricity, and 12 with water, electricity, and cable TVs. Daily camping fees range from $11 to $17 plus park entrance fee of $7 per adult.

Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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Top Campgrounds, RV Parks & Resorts Near Popular Water Recreation Areas

These selected campgrounds and RV parks are located on or near some of North America’s most popular water recreation areas including Lake Powell, Gulf Coast, and Colorado River.

Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

 

Wahweap RV Park and Campground is located near Page in the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. This RV park is well laid out, offering spacious sites for rigs of any size—all with full hookups. The park sits on a sloping hillside overlooking Lake Powell. There are many wonderful scenic day trips to take from here. Don’t miss the trip over though Marble Canyon to Lee’s Ferry.

The newest RV Resort and Golf Club destination on the North Shore of the Alabama Gulf Coast, Lake Osprey RV Resort is designed for high-end RVs. Built for outdoor enthusiasts that boast beautiful, serene settings. Lake Osprey is nestled around several spring-fed lakes in a nature preserve and consists of 188 lushly landscaped extra-large RV sites. Sugar white sand beaches, a variety of vacation amenities, and world-class shopping are all nearby.

Lake Osprey RV Resort, Elberta, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lake Osprey RV Resort, Elberta, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brunswick is situated on a peninsula with Oglethorpe Bay to the west, the Brunswick River to the south, and the Intracoastal Waterway to the east. This offers you a choice of inshore, offshore, Gulfstream, and deep-sea fishing. Coastal Georgia RV Resort is conveniently located off I-95, situated on a beautiful south Georgia lake surrounded by lush landscaping, just minutes away. The resort offers 105 spacious sites, all 35 feet wide, with lengths ranging from 60 to 70 feet. Most sites are pull-through with full hookups including 30/50-amp electric service, tables, fire rings, and grills.

Enjoy the beaches, trolley tours, ghost tours, golfing, bicycling, or fishing off the pier. Visit historic sites like Fort Frederica and Bloody Marsh Battle Site. Jekyll Island also offers beaches, bicycling, horseback riding, nature trails, fish off the pier, and Historic Millionaire’s Village.

Moses Lake is the perfect place for boating and water based recreation. Located on one of Washington State’s largest natural fresh water lakes (featuring over 120 miles of shoreline), Moses Lake is an outdoor recreational oasis. Suncrest Resort offers 87 full hook-up sites, swimming pool, mini water slides, 30 person spa, and pet areas.

Resting on the high plains along Montana’s Rocky Mountain Front Range, Great Falls is located at the confluence of the Missouri and Sun Rivers. With more than 48 miles of trail along the historic Missouri River, the award winning River’s Edge Trail is the perfect setting for biking, walking, skating, or jogging. Conveniently located right off I-15, Dick’s RV Park offers 137 full-hookup sites, cable TV, and WiFi. Most pull through sites are big rig friendly with pads 70 feet in length.

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the city of Gulf Shores on the coast of Alabama, white sun-kissed beaches, surging surf, seagulls, and seashells greet you at Gulf State Park. Consisting of 6,150 acres with two miles of sugar white sand beaches and three fresh water lakes, Gulf State Park has a modern full-service campground, cabins, cottages, back country trails, and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

The park also features an interactive nature center, nationally recognized scenic nature trail, tennis courts, beautiful beach pavilion, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course, and a 900-acre lake for fishing. Gulf State Park offers a 496-site campground with pull-through, back-in, and water front sites. All sites are big-rig friendly and have water, sewer, and 50/30/20- amp electric service, a paved camping pad, picnic table, and pedestal grill.

A Kleberg County park, SeaWind RV Resort is full-service campground located on the Texas Gulf Coast, 22 miles southeast of Kingsville on Baffin Bay, which holds the best trout fishing record of anywhere along the Gulf Coast. Red fish and Black Drum are also a very desirable catch.

Gulf State Park, Gulf Shore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Gulf State Park, Gulf Shore, Alabama © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Vogel Talks RVing selected the list of top campgrounds, RV parks, and resorts from parks personally visited.

Arizona Oasis RV Resort, Ehrenburg, Arizona

Coastal Georgia RV Resort, Brunswick, Georgia

Dick’s RV, Great Falls, Montana

Gulf State Park, Gulf Shore, Alabama

Lake Osprey RV Resort, Elberta, Alabama

La Paz County Park, Parker, Arizona

Nk’Mip RV Park, Osoyoos, British Columbia

Riverbend RV Park, Luling, Texas

Seawind RV Park, Riviera Beach, Texas

Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Suncrest Resort, Moses Lake, Washington

Texas Lakeside RV Resort, Port Lavaca, Texas

Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Page, Arizona

Worth Pondering…

For all at last return to the sea—to Oceanus, the ocean river, like the ever-flowing stream of time, the beginning and the end.

—Rachel Carson, The Sea Around Us

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