Scenic Byway 12: A Journey Like No Other

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Rachel Carson

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Capitol Reef National Park: A Utah Favorite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Albert Einstein

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7 Family Summer Destinations in South Central Utah

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

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

In this list we cover destinations in south central Utah including Torrey, Boulder, and Escalante. Like the previous locations, these are easily accessible and enjoyable for all sorts of families and centered around towns that offer inexpensive camping.

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

Capitol Reef National Park – Fruita

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

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

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park – petroglyph panel

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

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

Capitol Reef National Park – scenic drive

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

Boulder – Scenic Byway 12

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

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

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

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

Burr Trail

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

Boulder – Anasazi State Park Museum

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

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

Escalante- Petrified Forest State Park

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

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

—Ursula K. Le Guin

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Utah Scenic Byways Rock

Sampling the best of southwest Utah is simple. Just follow its network of scenic byways.

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s vast wilderness draws outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe.

St. George has become one of the more popular retirement communities in the country. Located in extreme southwestern Utah, it has spectacular red rock bluffs overlooking the town, a mild climate in winter, and terrific recreational opportunities such as hiking in the nearby Zion National Park and many golf courses.

Heading north from St. George, Interstate 15 rises through the Pine Valley Mountains toward the storybook town of Cedar City. At exit 40 you can take a detour along the short Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway to the picturesque Zion Kolob Canyons. The best time to view the canyons is early morning.

The quiet town of Cedar City, also known as Festival City, is renowned for its old pioneer feel and the Utah Shakespearean Festival. Held in an outdoor theater, the 54-year festival hosts a variety of plays running from late June to late October.

From Cedar City the 40-mile-long Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (Highway 14) climbs east through the Dixie National Forest’s thick stands of aspen and spruce to the top of 10,000-foot-high Markagunt Plateau. The byway then continues across Cedar Mountain to several points of interest including Navajo Lake, a favorite for fishing.

Panguitch Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Panguitch Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Going north on the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (Highway 148), you’ll find Cedar Breaks National Monument, a 3-mile-wide and 2,500-foot-deep chasm carved into the western ridge of the plateau. The amphitheater, especially when viewed in the morning or evening, glows with hues of orange, coral, rose and white. Small stands of bristlecone pines grow along the rim.

This natural amphitheater, with its highly hued sandstone walls and columns, inspired the Paiute name uncapi cunump or “circle of painted cliffs”.

A few miles north of the monument, the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway (Highway 143) slices east across the plateau to Panguitch Lake, about 20 miles east of the Highway 148 turnoff.

Panguitch Lake is a popular summer and winter fishing spot and recreational area. Paiute for “big fish”, the lake is known for some of the largest rainbow trout in the state. The forests of the vast Markaugunt Plateau surrounding Panguitch Lake are brilliant with color during autumn, including yellow and orange-red aspen leaves. They have drawn photographers from all over the country. Seventeen miles northeast of the lake is the tiny farming community of Panguitch, the gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Fishlake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fishlake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving the “Land of Hoodoos” for another day, we meander north on Highway 89 along the banks of the Sevier River to Circleville, Butch Cassidy’s boyhood home.

Just north of Circleville, Highway 62 follows the Otter Creek River east before turning north near Otter Creek State Park Reservoir. The park offers year-round fishing and boating.

Skirting the Fishlake National Forest, Highway 62 ascends into the 11,000-foot-high Parker Range toward Burrville and the junction with the Capitol Reef Scenic Byway (Highway 24). About 10 miles southeast of the junction is the 27-mile-long Fishlake Scenic Byway (Highway 25) that loops around Fish Lake, another worthwhile detour. Surrounded by the 11,000-foot peaks of the Fish Lake Mountains, the cold, clear waters of this stunning mountain lake offer great trout-lake fishing.

The loop returns to Highway 24 at Loa, the small town named by Franklin W. Young after Hawaii’s famous Mauna Loa. Young lived on Hawaii’s Big Island for years before relocating to Utah. From Loa, Highway 24 sweeps southeast across the Awapa Plateau before descending  into Torrey, the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park.

The Paiutes called the Capitol Reef area with its multicolored rock formations, “the land of the sleeping rainbow”. Early pioneers named the region after the impassable ridges they called reefs and the limestone dome that reminded them of capitol buildings back East.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near the visitor center in Fruita, you can explore the restored one-room Torrey Log School and Church, built in 1889 and pick fresh fruit from the surrounding orchard.

Winding south from Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 climbs to high elevations in spots on its journey to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park.

And these my friends, are the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

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Best National Parks To Avoid the Crowds

From snow-capped glacial peaks to meandering coastal shorelines and from white sand deserts to steep gorges and canyons, some of America’s most awe-inspiring natural attractions are found within its extensive national park system.

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold into the park’s interior. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive along the western side of the Waterpocket Fold into the park’s interior. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most people know about the popular and most-visited parks including Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Great Smoky Mountains, and Zion.

Coping with crowds at national parks can get tiresome, especially during the peak summer travel season. America is jam packed with national parks but the problem is that the most popular are just that—popular.

If you want to escape from the herd, or just take a breather from the hustle and bustle of the big name attractions, the US has numerous other, lesser-known parks each with their own unique attractions. And as an added bonus they’re usually much less crowded in the peak travel seasons making the visit more relaxing and enjoyable.

Add an extra element of exploration to your summer travel plans by including a more remote or lesser known national park in your RV travel plans.

Following are two parks that fall into that category.

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Capitol Reef National Park is filled with geological wonders that stagger the imagination.

Somewhat remote, and not as well known as the other parks, Capitol Reef is located on the northern edge of the Grand Circle Tour.

The Navajo call the area the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow”, an accurate depiction of the many hues of the landscape of Capitol Reef. The “capitol” comes from the white domes of Navajo sandstone that resembles the nation’s capitol building, and the “reef” comes from the rocky cliffs that are a barrier to travel, like coral reefs.

On Cumberland Island, Dungeness burned nearly to the ground in 1959 from a fire suspected as arson, but its ruins are a must-see for visitors. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
On Cumberland Island, Dungeness burned nearly to the ground in 1959 from a fire suspected as arson, but its ruins are a must-see for visitors. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s Utah’s second-largest national park, with slot canyons, arches, cliffs, and 31 miles of well-marked trails—yet only one-fifth the number of Zion’s visitors. Throw in ancient petroglyphs, a river running through a lush valley of 2,000 apple trees, crazy geology like the 100-mile-long natural upheaval in the earth’s crust known as the Waterpocket Fold, and the knockout 8-mile Scenic Drive.

Camping is available at Fruita Campground where you can choose one of the 71 shaded sites ($10/night). All sites are first come, first serve.

2013 visitor count: 663,670

Cumberland Island National Seashore, Georgia

Cumberland Island National Seashore, on the Georgia coast, includes one of the largest undeveloped barrier islands in the world.

The park is also home to one of the largest maritime forests remaining in the United States, one of the largest wilderness areas in a National Seashore on the east coast, and a herd of feral, free-ranging horses.

Cumberland Island National Seashore includes a designated wilderness area, undeveloped beaches, historic sites, cultural ruins, critical wildlife habitat, and nesting areas, as well as numerous plant and animal communities.

Most visitors come to Cumberland for the natural glories, serenity, and fascinating history.

Cumberland Island’s past is a tantalizing story of the Timucuan Indians, the French, the Spanish, pirates, wars, steel magnates, and cotton plantations. Her present is an extraordinary portrait of natural beauty, so much so that the Travel Channel named her “America’s Most Beautiful Wilderness Beach.”

The island is accessible by passenger ferry from Visitor Center dock in the historic community of St. Marys, Georgia. Ferry is walk-on, passenger-only. All trips are round-trip. Ferry does not transport pets, bikes, kayaks or cars.

2013 visitor count: 51,435

Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, Virginia

The surrender site at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, the McLean House, a three-story structure is furnished with mid-nineteenth century furnishings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The surrender site at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park, the McLean House, a three-story structure is furnished with mid-nineteenth century furnishings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Walk the old country lanes where Robert E. Lee, Commanding General of the Army of Northern Virginia, surrendered his men to Ulysses Grant, General-in-Chief of all United States forces, on April 9, 1865.

Imagine the events that signaled the end of the Southern States’ attempt to create a separate nation. You cannot stand there and not be moved.

The National Park encompasses approximately 1,700 acres of rolling hills in rural central Virginia. The site includes the McLean home (surrender site) and the village of Appomattox Court House, the former county seat for Appomattox County. The site also has the home and burial place of Joel Sweeney—the popularizer of the modern five string banjo. There are twenty seven original 19th century structures on the site.

The park is located 2 miles northeast of the town of Appomattox on SR 24.

2013 visitor count: 317,660

Worth Pondering…

The nation behaves well when it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Top 10 National Parks for Camping

National parks provide the opportunity to explore nature at its best.

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

From the diversity of beautiful wildlife to the endless possibilities in their miles of trails these parks have much to offer in new experiences, sights, and sounds.

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

There are many opportunities for camping at national parks with several different types of camping from which to choose. This ranges from camping at full-facility campgrounds, to backcountry camping with limited facilities, to wilderness camping where you might find no facilities at all.

From a planning standpoint, campgrounds can generally be divided into two categories:

  • Campgrounds that accept reservations
  • Campgrounds that operate on a first-come, first-served basis

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

Arches National Park, Utah

Located in eastern Utah, Arches National Park is a unique geological wonderland. The park preserves more than 2,000 natural sandstone arches, including the world-famous Delicate Arch, and many other unusual rock formations.

Let's Go RVing to Joshua Tree National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Let’s Go RVing to Joshua Tree National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Devils Garden Campground is located 18 miles from the park entrance and is open year-round. Facilities include potable water, picnic tables, grills, as well as both pit-style and flush toilets. There are no showers or RV dump/fill stations. Some sites will accommodate RVs up to 30 feet in length.

All 50 sites in Arches’ campground are usually reserved in advance during the busy season (March – October).

…Continue reading →

Joshua Tree National Park, California

Located in southeastern California, Joshua Tree National Park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the higher Mojave and lower Colorado deserts that range in altitude from 1,200 feet in the Pinto Basin to 5,814 feet.

Joshua Tree offers nine campgrounds with tables, fire grates, and toilets. There are no hookups for recreational vehicles. Black Rock and Cottonwood have fresh-water fill-up and dump stations. Water also is available at the Oasis Visitor Center, Indian Cove Ranger Station, and West Entrance. Since this is a desert, water is scarce; arrive with a full tank.
Recreational vehicles are prohibited at Cottonwood and Sheep Pass group sites. At Hidden Valley and White Tank campgrounds, and at Indian Cove group sites, motorhomes and trailers, including their tow vehicle, cannot exceed a combined vehicle length of 25 feet.

First-come, first-served campgrounds include Belle, Cottonwood, Hidden Valley, Jumbo Rocks, Ryan, and White Tank. Black Rock and Indian Cove campgrounds are first-come, first-served June through September.

Continue reading →

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fruita Campground is located adjacent to the Fremont River (pictured above) in Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries.

The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Open year-round, the Fruita Campground is the only developed campground in Capitol Reef National Park. Sites are first-come, first-served. Adjacent to the Fremont River and surrounded by historic orchards, this developed campground has 71 RV/tent sites, each with a picnic table and grill, but no individual water, sewage, or electrical hook-ups. There is a RV dump and potable water fill station near the entrance to Loops A and B. Restrooms feature running water and flush toilets, but no showers.

Continue reading →

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series

Part 2: Best 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 3: 10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

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

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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50 Places to Discover in an RV

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

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © 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:

Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley. The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park.

Continue reading →

Carlsbad Caverns National Park, New Mexico

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.

Continue reading →

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

No place else on earth combines a deep, pure lake, so blue in color; sheer surrounding cliffs, almost two thousand feet high; two picturesque islands; and a violent volcanic past. It’s the deepest lake in the U. S. and its reputation as a spot of overwhelming, sublime natural beauty—the “Gem of the Cascades”—extends around the globe.

Approximately 7,700 years ago, 12,000 foot Mount Mazama erupted and collapsed on itself, forming a large, bowl-shape caldera. Remaining lava flows sealed the bottom and, after a long period of cooling, the caldera filled with rain and snow, creating the sapphire-blue lake.

Death Valley National Park, California

Death Valley National Park gives new meaning to the word extreme. Telescope Peak, the highest peak in the Park, rises 11,049 feet and lies only 15 miles from the lowest point in the United States in the Badwater Basin salt pan, 282 feet below sea level.

Hemmed in by nine mountain ranges, Death Valley is cut off from rainfall and cooling Pacific winds, making it one of the driest and hottest places in the world. The highest temperatures in the United States are regularly recorded here with a record high temperature of 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913.

Denali National Park, Alaska

Denali National Park is home to North America’s highest mountain, Mt. McKinley, towering over 20,300 feet tall. The 6 million acre National Park will also give you one of your best opportunities to see Alaska’s wildlife such as grizzly bear, moose, wolves, Dall sheep, and caribou.

The main cavern is located 754 feet below the Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The main cavern is located 754 feet below the Visitor Center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The 90-mile road into Denali Park has restricted access and private vehicles are only allowed on the first fourteen miles. You will almost certainly want to travel further into the Park on a narrated bus tour or Park Service shuttle.

Everglades National Park, Florida

The park is at the southern tip of the Everglades, a hundred-mile-long subtropical wilderness of saw-grass prairie, junglelike hammock, and mangrove swamp that originally ran from Lake Okeechobee to Florida Bay.

The park’s unique mix of tropical and temperate plants and animals—including more than 700 plant and 300 bird species, as well as the endangered manatee, crocodile, and Florida panther—has prompted UNESCO to grant it international biosphere reserve status as well as World Heritage Site designation.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

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

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Top 5 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?

5. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (Tennessee, North Carolina)

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park sits astride the Tennessee-North Carolina border amid the majestic southern climax of the Appalachian Highlands. The most visited national park draws more than nine million adventurers and sightseers each year. And for good reason—the Smokies are within a day’s drive of a third of the U.S. population, and very few places in the East are in their league as an outdoor-recreation destination.

Great Smoky Mountains protects one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, a place that supports more than 4,000 species of plants, approximately 100 species of native trees, 66 mammals, approximately 240 species of birds, and more species of salamanders than are found anywhere else on earth.

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4. Capitol Reef National Park (Utah)

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries. The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant in the midst of Capitol Reef’s red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park. Several easy hiking trails and a 25-mile scenic drive are found in this area. Cathedral Valley and other backcountry regions are reached by traveling on dirt roads.

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3. Canyonlands National Park (Utah)

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

Canyonlands likely won’t make everyone’s list, but then, that’s probably because they haven’t visited.

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 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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2. Grand Canyon National Park

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

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosion decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. Nearly five million people see the Grand Canyon each year. Most of them see it from their car at overlooks along the South Rim.

A much smaller number of people see the Canyon from the North Rim, which lies just 10 miles (as the condor flies) directly across the Canyon from the South Rim. The North Rim rises a thousand feet higher than the South Rim, and is much less accessible.

John Wesley Powell said it best, “The wonders of the Grand Canyon cannot be adequately represented in symbols of speech, nor by speech itself.”

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1. Arches National Park

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

Located five miles north of Moab, Arches National Park is a geological wonderland and one of Utah’s most accessible parks. The extraordinary features of the park create a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world.

The greatest density of natural arches in the world occurs in Arches which preserves more than 2,000 imposing natural sandstone arches—including the world-famous and much-photographed Delicate Arch. Towering spires, fins, petrified dunes, massive sandstone buttes and walls, and balanced rocks complement the arches, creating a remarkable assortment of landforms in a relatively small area.

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How can a Top 10 List omit such icons of the national park system as Yellowstone, Yosemite, and Acadia, you ask? Only because they’re on my Bucket List.

Worth Pondering…
I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.
—Susan Sontag

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Utah: Five Spectacular National Parks

Utah’s five national parks have it all.

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ll see unique soaring spires, towering pinnacles, sandstone canyons, and intricately eroded arches of sculptured stone for starters.

Capitol Reef National Park
Capitol Reef National Park splashes color for 100 miles from its northern to southern boundaries.

The central geologic feature, the Waterpocket Fold, is a bulging uplift of rainbow-hued sandstone “reefs” and canyons. Much of Capitol Reef is an inviting wilderness of sandstone formations such as Capitol Dome, Hickman Bridge, and Temple of the Sun and Moon in the backcountry of splendid Cathedral Valley.

Rock art petroglyphs are abundant in the midst of Capitol Reef’s red rocks and tell the story of the early indigenous people, the Fremont Culture. Close by are the large orchards of Fruita, an early pioneer settlement—and now headquarters for the park—where a variety of fruit may be picked in season.

The visitor center and campground are open year-round. Several easy hiking trails and a 25-mile scenic drive are found in this area. Cathedral Valley and other backcountry regions are reached by traveling on dirt roads, so make sure to inquire locally about current road conditions.

The park is 11 miles east of Torrey or 37 miles west of Hanksville on Utah Highway 24.

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Canyonlands National Park

The Island in the Sky region 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

Views thousands of feet down to the Green and Colorado Rivers, or thousands of feet up to red rock pinnacles, cliffs, and spires create the incredible beauty of Utah’s largest national park.

The rivers have sliced Canyonlands National Park into three districts, each named according to its distinctive landscape.

Island in the Sky is the northern section where visitors can look down to the Colorado River on the east and the Green River on the west. The southern tip overlooks the rivers’ confluence.

The Needles District is named for its profusion of red rock spires and sandstone fins.

The remote Maze District is Canyonlands’ most jumbled stone playground, requiring backcountry use permits year-round.

Major entrances to the park are accessible from U.S. Highway 191. Access to Island in the Sky is 35 miles northwest of Moab and access to the Needles District is 22 miles north of Monticello.

Canyonlands is world-renowned for its four-wheel-drive vehicle and mountain bike routes, and its whitewater rafting. Visitor centers are open year-round.

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Arches National Park
Arches National Park has about 2,000 windowed arches, towering spires, harrowing hoodoos, and precarious pinnacles on display—such as Balanced Rock, Skyline Arch, and Courthouse Towers.

Delicate Arch, perhaps Utah’s most iconic feature is a must-hike destination in the park. Arches contain 73,000 acres of varied landscapes, with a paved 40-mile scenic drive from the park entrance to the campground at Devil’s Garden.

There are numerous parking areas for trail access and scenic overlooks. Two trails, and a viewpoint accessible by car, offer different views of Delicate Arch, the park’s most famous geologic feature.

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

Road guides and hiking brochures are available at the visitor center and the park entrance, located five miles north of Moab via U.S. Highway 191.

Arches National Park is open year-round, as is the campground. Water is only available seasonally.

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Come visit Utah. Come and live Life Elevated®! 

Note: This is Part 2 of a 2-part series

Part 1: Utah: The Ultimate Road Trip

Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West

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Two Iconic Symbols Merge: Vintage Airstreams & Drive-In Theater

The Shooting Star Drive-In Airstream and RV Park is the marriage of two iconic symbols of freedom and adventure on American highways.

The Shooting Star Drive-In Airstream Hotel features eight custom-designed Airstreams as luxury accommodations. (Source: shootingstardrive-in.com)

Nestled between Capitol Reef and Bryce Canyon National Parks, Utah Scenic Byway 12 is located in one of the most beautiful places on earth.

This All-American Road which winds its way 124 miles from Panguitch to Torrey has dozens of natural attractions from alpine forests and ancient sea beds to pink rock turrets.

But this awe-inspiring scenic byway also boasts a relatively new man-made curiosity—The Shooting Star Drive-In.

It’s a one-of-a-kind resort that combines Airstream travel trailers and vintage convertible cars with a drive-in movie theater, reports The Salt Lake Tribune.

Owner Mark Gudenas, a Chicago native, opened the resort about a year ago on 25 acres just west of Escalante.

The main attraction is the eight restored vintage Airstream trailers that guests can rent starting at $149 a night. There are seven vintage convertibles where travelers can sit and watch an old-time movie on a large outdoor screen.

The resort also has its own full-service RV Park.

Indy's Retreat offers a respite from the action that Harrison Ford faced while shooting Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (Source: shootingstardrive-in.com)

A movie buff for as long as he can remember, Gudenas decorated the Airstreams in a manner he thinks John Wayne, Marilyn Monroe, or Robert Redford would have liked when they were filming on location in Utah.

Each trailer has a kitchen, a tiny bathroom, beds, satellite radio and television as well as a wooden deck with Adirondack chairs and a propane grill. Gudenas even sells ready-to-cook packs of steak, salmon, chicken, brats, or hamburgers so his guests don’t have to hunt for the grocery store.

Gudenas is easy to spot: He wears 1950s-type bowling shirts—a style he adopted long before Charlie Sheen made them famous on “Two and a Half Men”—and a straw porkpie hat. He delivers dinner and breakfast on a vintage 1966 bright yellow electric golf cart.

Gudenas, who operates the facility with his son, said one of his first memories as a child was watching “The Bridge on the River Kwai” in the backseat of his parents’ Ford Fairlane at a double drive-in movie theater.

Shooting Star Drive-In Retreat. (Source: shootingstardrive-in.com)

During his youth, he returned to the drive-in many times: He hopped the fence and pulled the speaker off the post before he was shooed away. He also remembers going in his first car, a 1966 Mustang, The Salt Lake Tribune reports.

About eight years ago, Gudenas began collecting Airstream trailers—as well as the vintage convertibles—from all over the country.

The Shooting Star Drive-In is the marriage of “two iconic symbols of freedom and adventure on American highways,” he said.

“Then there was the fun and unique adventure of a drive-in movie theater. So I built all of them and put them together.”

He searched all over southern Utah for the right place to build the resort, looking in Springdale, Kanab, Moab, and Panguitch and eventually settling on an RV park in Escalante.

“It had to be just right,” he said. The town of Escalante is almost exactly in the middle of the 124-mile stretch of Highway 12, making it a good home base to explore the recreational areas in either direction.

It took him nine months to build the resort, doing most of the renovations himself.

Details

Shooting Star Drive-In Airstream & RV Park

The Shooting Star Drive-In Airstream & RV Park features 360-degree views of the Grand Staircase, the Escalante Mountains and Dixie National Forest.

It’s a one-of-a-kind resort along Utah’s Highway 12 where travelers can stay in restored Airstream travel trailers and sit in vintage convertible cars while they watch a drive-in movie.

There you’ll find 18 long, pull-through sites with 20/30/50-amp power, water, and picnic tables. Nine sites have a sewer connection and an easily accessible dump station is also available.

The Shooting Star Drive-In Airstream & RV Park features 360-degree views of the Grand Staircase, the Escalante Mountains and Dixie National Forest. (Source: shootingstardrive-in.com)

The 2,400-seat Pavilion in the Oaks is furnished with tables and seating for 36. The Pavilion is illuminated and great for Rally dining and gatherings.

When the sun goes down, enjoy a campfire in the river rock fire ring, or stroll west to the Shooting Star Drive-In and enjoy the evening’s entertainment up on the big screen.

The Resort Store features a wide assortment of food, beverages, and sundries. Located indoors, adjacent to the store, is a full bath and shower for guests. A wash and fold laundry service is also available.

Trailer Rental: Airstream trailers can be rented starting at $149 per night

RV Rental: Full hook-up sites, $40; power/water sites, $30

Address: 2020 West Highway 12, Post Office Box 290, Escalante, UT 84726

Phone: (435) 826-4440

Website: shootingstardrive-in.com

Worth Pondering…

Airstream trailer history

The distinctive-looking Airstream trailer dates to 1929, when Wally Byam purchased a Model T Ford chassis, built a platform on it and then erected a tent on it. His wife, Marion, refused to go camping without a kitchen, so he built a teardrop-shaped shelter that enclosed a small ice chest and kerosene stove. He published an article on “How to Build a Trailer for One Hundred Dollars” and sold 15,000 detailed instruction plans. After several friends asked him to make them trailers in his backyard, the Airstream Trailer Company went into full production in 1932. Airstream is credited with the first holding tank, ladder frame, pressurized water system and, in 1957, the first fully self-contained travel trailer.

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