4 Great National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. From these Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.

With 8 different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Arches National Park, Utah

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

Visit Arches and discover a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.

Devils Garden Campground is located eighteen miles from the park entrance and is open year-round. There are 50 individual camping sites. Facilities include potable water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets. There are no showers or RV dump/fill stations.

All sites are usually reserved in advance during the busy season (March through October). As an alternative numerous private campgrounds are available in nearby Moab.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

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

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia may be the nation’s most compelling hikers’ park despite the fact that most hikes begin by either an ascent or descent.

The two-lane Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and it is important for campers who want to begin their explorations of Shenandoah by simply driving. Along the road dozens of pullovers provide views of such spectacles as Old Rag Mountain which contains some of the nation’s oldest rocks. All trails lead to attractions, such as the park’s 15-some waterfalls including 93-foot-high Overall Run Falls, its highest. Or it might lead to Hawksbill, the park’s highest mountain at 4,051 feet.

There are four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park; three campgrounds will accommodate large RVs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain all have pull-through and deep back-in sites which can handle an RV with a tow vehicle. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Shenandoah but potable water and dump stations are available with the exception of Lewis Mountain.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. Archaeologists believe that people have lived here for more than 5,000 years making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

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

Cottonwood Campground is located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. During our visit we had no difficulty in finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

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More National Parks in the Movies

National parks have provided a backdrop for dozens, if not hundreds of films throughout the years.

The Navajo Bridge spans the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Navajo Bridge spans the Colorado River in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Starting in 1910 with “The Immortal Alamo”, Hollywood directors have been coming to national parks year after year to capture majestic scenery for their productions. From faraway planets to jurassic jungles to Old West hide-outs, great American landscapes have played just about every role imaginable. Movie directors often appreciate these lands because of their undeveloped character, which means manmade infrastructure like electric wires don’t have to be edited be out.

A movie can be as well known for its setting as for the acting or music. Some of the most iconic, recognizable features of national parks have been preserved on film as natural wonders, plot devices, and new worlds.

As you take a look at the following, you’ll find some of your favorite movies, you will learn where that beautiful scenery is located, and you can go there for a visit.

National parks have served as backdrops for countless movies. Glen Canyon National Recreation Area played a key role in Planet of the Apes, Badlands National Park was prominently featured in Dancing With Wolves, and Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade was filmed in Arches National Park.

The list rolls on, not unlike credits at the end of a movie…

One of over 2,000 arches in Arches National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
One of over 2,000 arches in Arches National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Planet of the Apes (1967)

Location: Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

What better wild place to play a dusty ape planet than the high desert? While the crashed rocket scene took place at Lake Powell, much of astronaut George Taylor’s (Charlton Heston) journey takes place around Glen Canyon National Recreation Area. Taylor’s journey with Cornelius and Zira through “the forbidden zone” was filmed along the Colorado River in Glen Canyon.

Other movies filmed at Glen Canyon include: Bandolero (1967), Beastsmaster 11 (1990), The Big Country (1957), Damnation Alley (1976), The Flintstones (1993), Highway to Hell (1989), Maverick (1993), Broken Arrow (1996)

Dances With Wolves (1990)

Location: Badlands National Park, South Dakota

Lt. John Dunbar, exiled to a remote western Civil War outpost, befriends wolves and Indians, making him an intolerable aberration in the military. Directed by Kevin Costner, Dancing With Wolves won seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Most of this epic movie was filmed on location in South Dakota, including Badlands National Park, the Black Hills, and private ranches near Rapid City and Pierre.

Other movies filmed at Badlands include: Starship Troopers (1997), Armageddon (1998), How the West Was Won (1962), Thunderheart (1992), Dust of War (2013), The Last Hunt (1956)

Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989)

Location: Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park near Moab was featured in the opening sequence of the third Indiana Jones movie. If you’re familiar with the terrain, you may recognize some land markers as young Indy (River Phoenix) explores the high desert as a Boy Scout. It’s there in Arches that Indiana encounters a group of no-gooders with the cross of Coronado.

Other movies filmed at Arches include: Cheyenne Autumn (1963), City Slickers II (1993), Josh and Sam (1992), Rio Conchos (1964), Sundown (1988), Wild Rovers (1966)

The Lone Ranger (2013)

Location: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona; Canyonlands National Park, Utah

In this modern take on the Lone Ranger, Johnny Depp (Tonto) and Armie Hammer (the masked hero) share adventures throughout the rugged western lands of Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico. While much of the movie was filmed in and around the iconic sites of Monument Valley and Canyonlands National Park, the movie crew also headed to Canyon de Chelly National Monument for a few scenes.

Other movies filmed at Canyon de Chelly include: Poltergeist II: The Other Side (1986), The Big Country (1957), McKenna’s Gold (1967), The Desert Song (1942)

Sculpted formations at Arches National Park in late afternoon light  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sculpted formations at Arches National Park in late afternoon light © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Star Trek V, The Final Frontier (1989)

Location: Yosemite National Park, California

Not your typical Star Trek setting, but nonetheless Yosemite had its moment of trekkie glory when Captain Kirk (William Shatner) decides to take a casual climb up El Capitan during the crew’s shore leave. “Why are you climbing the mountain?” asks Dr. Spock. “Because it’s there,” says Captain Kirk. Sounds good enough to me.

Other movies filmed at Yosemite include: Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975), The Caine Mutiny (1954), Maverick (1994), Order of the Eagle (1989)

Worth Pondering…

Nature does nothing uselessly.

—Aristotle

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Arizona Getaways: Top 10 & More

In an earlier post, I posed the question, What is your favorite Arizona destination?

Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock Lookout, Canyon de Chelly National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since I found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination, I decided to create a top 10 list instead. At times, a Top 10 List just doesn’t cut it, either.

Without question, Arizona is a melting pot of scenic variety. Across the state, dramatic rockscapes, ancient petroglyphs, and postcard moments abound. Continuing the best of Arizona… oh please. What are we waiting for?

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

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

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center, was a wonderful surprise. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. We had no difficulty is finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Acorn Woodpecker © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acorn Woodpecker at Ramsey Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birding & Ramsey Canyon

Known worldwide as a birding hotspot, Ramsey Canyon is home to more than 400 species of plants and more than 170 species of birds.

Southeastern Arizona is an ecological crossroads, where the Sierra Madre of Mexico, the Rocky Mountains, and the Sonoran and Chihuahuan deserts all come together. The abrupt rise of mountains like the Huachucas from the surrounding arid grasslands creates “sky islands”.

This combination of factors gives Ramsey Canyon Preserve its notable variety of plant and animal life, including such southwestern specialties as Apache and Chihuahua pines, elegant trogon, and berylline and violet-crowned hummingbirds. The featured jewels of this pristine habitat are the 14 species of hummingbirds that congregate here from spring through autumn.

Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Tombstone © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tombstone

Tombstone invites visitors to walk in the footsteps of the West’s most famous outlaws and good guys, the Clantons and the Earps. During its 1880s heyday, Tombstone, the “Town Too Tough to Die,” boasted 10,000 gunslingers, gamblers, prospectors, and prostitutes.

Sparked by Edward Schieffelin’s silver strike (skeptics warned he’d only find his own tombstone), the raucous town boasted more than 60 saloons. Tombstone is known for the famous street fight near the OK Corral between Wyatt, Virgil and Morgan Earp and Doc Holliday vs. Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy and Ike Clanton.

The OK Corral still stands and gunfights are re-enacted as visitors are thrown back to a lime when life was bold and uncompromising. Tourists can visit the many historical buildings dating back to the 1880s. Stagecoach rides. Old West saloons, museums, trading posts, dance hall girls, cowboys, and unique photo opportunities also add to the adventure.

Chiricahua National Monument

Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Chiricahua National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unique rock formations and unusual landscapes can be explored at Chiricahua National Monument. Eons ago, lava flows covered the region, creating a dense layer of lava rock. Over the years the rocks cracked and withered away resulting in spectacular, startling rock formations that today make up the Chiricahua Mountains.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest Natopnal Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petrified Forest Natopnal Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Petrified Forest National Park preserves one of the world’s largest and most vibrantly colored assemblies of petrified wood, historic structures, and archeological sites.

The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert along with archaeological sites and historic structures, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

Petrified Forest National Park stretches north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 180. There are two entrances into the park. Your direction of travel dictates which entrance is best to use.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.
—Diane Arbus

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4 Destinations Beyond the Grand Canyon

The world knows Arizona as the Grand Canyon State.

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But there’s far more to the natural beauty of Northern Arizona than just one landmark. This region has many spots that people outside the state may never hear about. Following are four of my favorite overlooked Northern Arizona travel destinations.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

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

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

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center, was a wonderful surprise. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. We had no difficulty is finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Petrified Forest National Park

Petrified Forest National Park preserves one of the world’s largest and most vibrantly colored assemblies of petrified wood, historic structures, and archeological sites.

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

The park is composed of two sections: the north section is a colorful badlands called the Painted Desert, and the southern section contains most of the petrified wood.

The park consists of a 28-mile road that offers numerous overlooks and winds through the mesas and wilderness. Visitors can also choose to hike a variety of trails ranging from easy to difficult.

Petrified Forest National Park stretches north and south between I-40 and U.S. Highway 180. There are two entrances into the park. Your direction of travel dictates which entrance is best to use.

Westbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 311, drive the 28 miles through the park and connect with Highway 180 at the south end. Travel 19 miles on Highway 180 North to return to I-40 via Holbrook.

Eastbound I-40 travelers should take Exit 285 into Holbrook then travel 19 miles on U.S. Highway 180 South to the park’s south entrance. Drive the 28 miles north through the park to return to I-40.

Nestled within the red rocks, Sedona attracts four million new and returning visitors each year, making it the second-most-visited place in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Nestled within the red rocks, Sedona attracts four million new and returning visitors each year, making it the second-most-visited place in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona 

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders. Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece.

Sedona’s mesmerizing red-rock country is unique to the world. The Sedona community offers so much—history, archeology, arts, culture, hiking, biking, off-road adventure, and spiritual and metaphysical meditations.

Prescott

Nestled in a stunning mountain bowl and surrounded by one of the largest ponderosa pine forests in the West, this beautiful town is steeped in history with an authentic taste of western heritage.

The 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, constructed of white granite and ringed by towering pines, is the centerpiece of Courthouse Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse, constructed of white granite and ringed by towering pines, is the centerpiece of Courthouse Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Banners proclaim Prescott as “Everyone’s Home Town.” You won’t find high rises, but the downtown businesses clustered around the 1916 Yavapai County Courthouse and its plaza are thriving.

On one side of the Court House Plaza is Whiskey Row. It’s more sedate now than it was prior to 1900 when the whiskey flowed and the faro tables were jammed 24 hours a day in its forty or so saloons. The former territorial capital of Arizona, Prescott boasts 525 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Worth Pondering…

There are only two places in the world

I want to live—Sedona and Paris.

—Max Ernst, Surrealist painter

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10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

Camping in America’s national parks allows a visitor to more fully appreciate the beauty of America’s natural treasures.

If you’re in search of a camper’s delight, these are the best national parks for you.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation. The recreation area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, encompassing scenic vistas, geologic wonders, and a vast panorama of human history.

Lees Ferry Campground offers 55 developed camping sites; no hookups available.

Primitive Camping is available at Stanton Creek, Hite, Farley Canyon, and Dirty Devil.

Lone Rock Beach is a beach camping area

Additional developed campgrounds are operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, are available at Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Halls Crossing.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Located in the southwest corner of Texas where the Rio Grande makes its “big bend” of a ­turn from south to north along the Mexican border, Big Bend National Park is a scenic blend of desert, mountain, and river environments. The peaks are the Chisos and the desert, the Chihuahuan stretching deep into Mexico.

The National Park Service operates three developed front country campgrounds: Chisos Basin Campground, Cottonwood Campground (near Castolon), and Rio Grande Village Campground.

Shenandoah National Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Shenandoah National Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concession-operated Rio Grande Village RV Campground offers full hook-ups.

A limited number of campsites in Rio Grande Village and the Chisos Basin campgrounds are can be reserved from November 15-April 15.

Continue reading →

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn.

There are four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park: Mathews Arm (mile 22.1), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5), and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

Although Shenandoah National Park doesn’t have a campground that is just for RVs, it does have three campgrounds that will accommodate large RVs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain campgrounds have pull-through and deep back-in sites which can accommodate an RV with a tow vehicle. Although hookups are not available, the campgrounds do have potable water and dump stations (with the exception of Lewis Mountain Campground).

Continue reading →

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. Sites are of varying length and suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length. Each site includes a parking space, picnic table, and grill. There are 3 restroom facilities that include sinks and flushable toilets, but no showers. No hookups are available, but a dump station is located in Loop 1. Limited services are available during winter months.

Continue reading →

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series

Part 1: Top 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 2: Best 10 National Parks for Camping

Worth Pondering…

We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

—Wallace Stegner

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National Parks Nobody Knows

Everybody loves Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon, and with good reason. Those and other icons of the National Park System are undeniably spectacular, and to experience their wonders is well worth braving the crowds they inevitably draw.

Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the big names are not the whole story.

The National Park System also features less known destinations that are beautiful, historic, or culturally significant—or all of the above. Some of these gems are off the beaten track, others are slowly rising to prominence, and a few are simply overshadowed by bigger, better-publicized parks.

But these national parks, monuments, historic places, and recreation areas are overlooked by many, and that’s a mistake you don’t want to make. For every Yosemite, there’s a lesser-known and less crowded park where the scenery shines and surprises.

The National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, released its third special edition in the popular Owner’s Guide series, “The Places Nobody Knows.”

“Our latest Owner’s Guide, ‘The Places Nobody Knows,’ invites Americans to take time to explore and enjoy some of the most spectacular, but perhaps less known, landscapes, monuments, and memorials America has to offer while taking an active role in preserving their parks,” said Neil Mulholland, President and CEO of the National Park Foundation, in a news release.

Profiled are 25 national park destinations paired with higher-profile counterparts. So, for instance, if you love the Grand Canyon, consider a visit to Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park in Colorado for spectacular canyon scenery. If traffic inching along the thoroughfares leading into Great Smoky Mountains National Park has you stymied, the verdant valleys of Cuyahoga National Park in Ohio could be a smart substitute.

Not all the matched parks are worlds apart, either. For instance, the dramatic red rock spires seen in Utah’s popular Bryce Canyon National Park are also found in Canyonlands, about five hours away.

The guide helps readers discover new parks to explore by revealing the similarities that well-known national parks share with lesser-known parks.

Two examples follow.

The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you love Zion National Park…you will also love Canyon De Chelly National Monument

Known for sheer sandstone cliffs and red slot canyons contrasted against a bright blue Utah sky, Zion National Park evokes the wonder and allure of Southwest adventure, and its proximity to other popular parks—including Grand Canyon to the south and Bryce Canyon to the north—makes it a can’t-miss.

Another park should be added to this list to fulfill a grand tour de force of canyon country. Canyon de Chelly lies east of the Grand Canyon. Here, Navajo people have lived for thousands of years, finding the canyons to be prime real estate for farming and homebuilding.

Today, roughly 40 Navajo families still live within the park boundaries. Canyon de Chelly is managed through a partnership between the National Park Service and the Navajo Nation, and many areas, including the backcountry, are accessible only with a permit and an official Navajo guide. Start a visit to Canyon de Chelly at the visitor center to learn more about the history and rules at this unique place.

Similar to the Grand Canyon, Canyon de Chelly can be viewed from both the South Rim and North Rim. Drive and stop at several overlooks along the way, and get on foot for the short hike to White House Ruin. To see more, sign up for a guided tour.

While Canyon de Chelly will definitely be a shorter visit than Zion or Grand Canyon, the park does offer a campground where you’re bound to get a spot.

When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park's namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park’s namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you love Joshua Tree National Park …you will also love Saguaro National Park

Sometimes, a plant so special comes along that a whole park is made to preserve it. That’s the case in both Joshua Tree and Saguaro National Parks.

The former and more often visited of the two—Joshua Tree—lies a short drive from Los Angeles, San Diego, and Palm Springs, California, in the Mojave Desert. While aging these trees, actually members of the yucca family, is difficult, scientists estimate some in the 3,000-year-old range.

Over the border in Arizona, the Giant Saguaro, North America’s largest cactus, has a park of its own. Nestled around Tucson (the city splits the park into two districts), Saguaro National Park celebrates its namesake cactus and unique Sonoran Desert ecosystem.

What makes the Giant Saguaro so special? This native of the Sonoran Desert has a presence like a tree, standing tall on the desert landscape, and can live to 250 years, a far cry from the Joshua Tree’s life span but no slouch for a cactus.

The Sonoran Desert is one of the most unique regions in the country, with many other plant and animal species found nowhere else: roadrunners, horned lizards, Gila monsters, kangaroo rats, and several other cactus species among them.

Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A springtime visit promises wildflowers galore as March and April rains hydrate and paint the landscape. The park offers more than 165 miles of trails to explore.

Get your national park fix without the crowds

Check out the photo gallery of these lesser-known gems and go online for a free copy of The Places Nobody Knows.

The National Park Foundation, the official charity of the national parks, also offers a free trip-planning guide to all 400 national park entities.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-Part series on lesser known National Parks

Part 1: National Parks without the Crowds

Part 2: Lesser Known National Park Gems

Worth Pondering…

There is nothing so American as our national parks. The scenery and wildlife are native. The fundamental idea behind the parks is native. It is, in brief, that the country belongs to the people, that it is in process of making for the enrichment of the lives of all of us. The parks stand as the outward symbol of this great human principle.

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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50 Spectacular RV Trips

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

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

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

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

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

Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina & Virginia

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

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

Brenham Creamery Company, Texas

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

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

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

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Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

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

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

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

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Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

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

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

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Canyonlands National Park, Utah

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

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

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

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

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Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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Top 10 National Parks: Is Your List Better Than Mine?

People like lists. No, check that, they love them. Particularly when they disagree with them and think they have a better list. So, here’s my personal Top 10 list of national parks.

How does it match up with yours?

10. Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

Since Canyon de Chelly lies on Navajo land, unsupervised access is restricted to the rim overlooks and to a single trail into the canyon, leading to the White House Ruins, as for all other trips down or along the canyon, a Navajo escort is required.

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9. Shenandoah National Park

Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn. Along the way, milepost markers help you identify your surroundings—and find the perfect place to pull over and enjoy the panoramic views.

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8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil.

Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture built an extraordinary variety of glistening formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.

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7. Zion National Park

In the heart of desert slot canyon territory in southwestern Utah is the most awe-inspiring place on the planet: Zion National Park. With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American Southwest just standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.

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6. Joshua Tree National Park

Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses one of the most interesting and diverse patches of desert in the U.S. Its namesake species, the spiky, dramatically crooked Joshua tree, is also considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert.

But this huge desert park actually lies at the meeting point of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The park’s eastern and southern areas, with sub 3,000-foot elevation and plants such as “jumping” cholla cactus and spidery ocotillo, is Sonoran in character; its western areas are higher, cooler, wetter, and quite densely forested with the park’s namesake tree.

You’ll find the tumbled granite boulders to which the park owes its recent fame in the high central range. And don’t miss the towering fan-palm oases, where an entire realm of wildlife revolves around their precious water.

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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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Place in the Rocks: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ, Part 2

Driving the canyon rims and viewing the canyon from the overlooks is an excellent introduction to Canyon de Chelly and gives you an idea of how else you might want to explore the canyon.

South Rim Drive

Offering panoramic views of the canyons, this drive is an excellent way to get the feel of the canyon. From the visitor center to the last overlook is about 16 miles one-way. There are seven overlooks from which to view Canyon de Chelly. Watch for changes in vegetation and geology as the elevation rises from 5,500 feet at the visitor center to 7,000 feet at Spider Rock.

Allow two to three hours for this drive—and considerably longer, if you’re a photographer.

Junction Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The third overlook, Junction, affords the first look at the canyon’s depth, and the signs warn that it’s a sheer drop of 600 feet to the bottom. Junction has views of Chinle Valley and the confluence of Canyon del Muerto and Canyon de Chelly.

The scenery elevates to spectacular at the Sliding Rock Overlook, about 700 feet above the canyon floor and site of ruins that once slipped off the canyon walls.

Face Rock Overlook is even higher and sort of a prelude to arguably the most magnificent of all—Spider Rock Overlook.

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. From here you can see the volcanic core of Black Rock Butte and the Chuska Mountains on the horizon.

Spider Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to legend, Spider Woman taught the Navajo how to weave and now lives on top of the spire that is covered with white limestone. The legend says the white stuff is the bones of bad children who were carried off by Spider Woman.

North Rim Drive

Also worthwhile, but not quite as scenic, the North Rim Drive has only three overlooks from which to view Canyon del Muerto. Some of the most beautiful cliff dwellings are along this 34-mile route from start to finish.

Allow a minimum of two hours for this drive.

Antelope House Ruin is named for the illustrations of antelope attributed to Navajo artist Dibe Yazhi (Little Sheep) who lived here in the early 1800s.

White House Trail

Sharing the White House Trail with a Navajo family herding sheep. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is a superb hike. For your efforts you’ll get an up-close look at White House ruins, mentioned in the Navajo Night Chant as “white house in between”. The trail begins at the White House Overlook and is a two- or three-mile round trip, depending on which signs you believe. Allow two to three hours to complete the trail. The drop from the rim to the canyon floor is 600 feet. Since the trail is considered moderately strenuous, hiking boots are recommended. Ensure you take plenty of drinking water, especially if you’re hiking in the summer’s heat. Pets are not allowed on the trail.

Camping

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center, was a wonderful surprise. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. We had no difficulty is finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Photo tips

Ask permission before taking photos of the Navajo people, their homes, or animals.

Although you’ll read in park brochure that lighting for photos is best on the North Rim in the morning, and on the South Rim in the afternoon, don’t believe it.

For the best photos of Spider Rock arrive at the overlook shortly after sunrise or in mid-afternoon, when the shadows are long and definitive.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Details

Operating Hours: Open year-round, 24 hours a day

Admission: Non-fee area; Navajo guide required to drive into the canyon bottom.

Pets: Not allowed on White House Trail

Elevation: 5,500 at the visitor center to over 7,000 feet

Location: From Highway 191at Chinle drive east 3 miles

Camping: Non-fee area

Address: PO Box 588, Chinle, AZ 86503

Contact: (928) 674-5500

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

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Place in the Rocks: Canyon de Chelly National Monument, AZ

From the mesa east of Chinle on the Navajo Reservation, Canyon de Chelly (pronounced “de shay”) is invisible. Then as one approaches, suddenly the world falls away—1,000 feet down a series of vertical red walls.

Sliding Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. People have lived here for more than 5,000 years, archaeologists believe, making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, occupies a unique place in the heritage of native American Indians. You can drive the park rims by yourself and hike on one trail, the White House Trail. Otherwise, there is no entry into the canyon without a permit and Navajo guide. A popular choice is riding down the canyon aboard a 20-passenger tour truck.

The word ‘de Chelly’ is a corruption of the Navajo word “Tsegi,” meaning “the place in the rocks”.

The word Chegui was found in Spanish diaries referring to the canyon and was probably spelled according to what was heard. As American settlers moved to the Southwest they also adopted the Spanish name, Chegui. Once again, settlers mispronounced and misspelled Chegui, assuming it was the Spanish word for canyon, hence Canyon de Chelly.

The town of Chinle, on the other hand, was named for its location. The Navajo chief, Ch’inli’, referred to the mouth of the canyon where the water flows out. As with many towns around the reservation, Chinle began as a trading post in 1882. Traders influenced missionaries, schools, and government agencies to set up near trading posts as that was where people gathered. Chinle’s first mission was established in 1904 and the first government school in 1910.

Anasazi, who are believed to be the ancestors of modern Hopi and Pueblo Indians, built intricate homes here between 1100 and 1300, using adobe bricks carved from the soft red sandstone. Some of the dwellings were up to five stories high and housed 30 to 40 families. Several sites include kivas—large round rooms dug into the ground, used for ceremonies.

Face Rock Overlook. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After seeing the amazing cliff dwellings, and the beautiful canyon itself, we would definitely return in a heart-beat, and there’s no question about putting it high on our ‘Top 10 List’.

Canyon de Chelly far exceeded our expectations.

Self-guided drives

Driving the canyon rims and viewing the canyon from the overlooks is an excellent introduction to Canyon de Chelly and gives you an idea of how else you might want to explore the canyon.

To assist you, a motoring guide and a trail guide are available at the bookstore in the visitor center.

 

Did You Know?
Canyon de Chelly National Monument is comprised entirely of Navajo tribal trust land with a resident community within the canyons. A backcountry permit and authorized guide are required to enter the canyon except for the White House Trail.

To be continued tomorrow…

Worth Pondering…

Beauty before me I walk,

Beauty behind me I walk,

Beauty above me I walk,

Beauty below me I walk,

Beauty all about me I walk.

In beauty all is restored,

In beauty all is made whole.

—Navajo Blessing Way

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