Snowbirds Begin Migrating North

It’s the time of year when the seasons change and snowbirds are flocking, to fly north.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All signs point to spring: warm winds, green budding trees, desert wildflowers, spring break, and snowbirds heading north.

Snowbirds enjoy Sunbelt winters, but they also like to have a bit of spring as well.

For many non-snowbirds who weathered another bitterly cold northern winter, the change of seasons is a welcome one.

Spring Break: Transition Time For Snowbirds

Spring break marks the transition time when most snowbirds return north and families head south, tired of the cold and looking for a place to thaw.

But there is a group, or perhaps a subset of a group, myself included, that experiences the opposite. Our enjoyment of a warm winter is now turning to angst as we contemplate the return to our northern home.

Snowbirds ask: Is it over already?

Many snowbirds are staying longer and there are more of them.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights
Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights

Snowbirds began the migration process several weeks ago returning to their northern homes. Some will stay a week or two more before commencing their journey north.

As snowbirds set out for home a question is often asked: “Is it over already?”

While reflecting about the past winter season, it has gone by very quickly.

Leaving the Southwest

We’ve been meandering around the Desert Southwest since December, enjoying a fabulous and temperate winter in a variety of RV parks and resorts in California and Arizona. Many amazing places visited and awesome adventures. The days were filled with numerous events, activities, and happenings in Snowbird Land—and writing about them.

The early and late winter season found us in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty tamales and other south-of-the border treats—and the famous Coachella Medjool dates.

Mexican gold poppies, lupins, and brittle bush at Picacho State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Mexican gold poppies, lupins, and brittle bush at Picacho State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Day trips included the Coachella Valley Preserve, a desert oasis with palm groves, a diverse trail system, and the historic Palm House, and Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, a Hopi-inspired pueblo nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs. Our home base was the 5-star Indian Waters RV Resort in Indio.

Arizona is a destination like no other. Arizona has everything: Lakes and mountains, forests and rivers. Mostly, though, Arizona has desert. Acres and acres of desert. Dee-lightful desert.

We divided out time between Arizona Oasis RV Resort on the Colorado River at Ehrenberg, Leaf Verde RV Resort at Buckeye, and two parks in Casa Grande: Sundance 1 and Casa Grande RV Resorts. All 5-star RV parks and excellent bases for exploring the beauties of the Sonoran Desert.

Selected highlights include Quartzsite and the Quartzsite RV Show; White Tanks, Estrella Mountain, Buckeye Hills, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks (Maricopa County); The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert; Picacho Peak State Park; Saguaro Lake, Four Peaks Wilderness; Queen Valley; and Pinal Parkway.

A distinguishing characteristic of the Sonoran Desert are desert wildflowers but they can be as rare as they are beautiful. Nature lovers know that they must rush out to catch a bloom whenever it occurs, because they may not get another opportunity for ten or more years.

Globe Mellow and saguaro at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert   © Rex Vogel, all rights
Globe Mellow and saguaro at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert © Rex Vogel, all rights

Furthermore, what triggers these floral fireworks extravaganzas is still very much a mystery and predicting a good bloom is nearly impossible until it’s about to begin. In a word, for beautiful scenes of desert wildflowers, this past season was one of the best in memory.

Northern bound

But spring has sprung, and we’re now we’re northern bound.

Thoughts of homes and family left behind become the focus for looking ahead.

OK, gotta get busy cleaning and stowing!

Worth Pondering…

To all, safe travels, keep your wheels on the road, and drive safely.

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Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs, a Hopi-inspired pueblo sits against a hillside. Not just any pueblo, but one built with natural materials collected throughout the desert.

Cabot's Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When homesteader Yerxa Cabot settled in Desert Hot Springs, he used re-purposed materials and a little ingenuity to build a home so unique it remains a preserved museum to this day.

While the structure’s architecture is a unique sight to behold, there’s more to see here than Cabot’s Hopi-style pueblo. Inside, the house has been turned into a museum with rooms filled with Indian artifacts, artwork, and memorabilia. One not to be missed artifact is Waokiye, a 43-foot sculpture of a Native American head. Waokiye is one of 74 heads in the “Trail of the Whispering Giants” collection.

Cabot’s pueblo spreads an impressive 5,000 square feet, divided into 35 rooms and adorned with 150 windows and 65 doors. What a sight it is to see!

Cabot the Man

Cabot Yerxa was an incredible man often described as a visionary, artist, writer, builder, architect, adventurer, explorer, collector, idealist, and entrepreneur. He was a human rights activist concerned about the legal, economic, and cultural crisis for Native Americans. Cabot was a highly degreed Mason. Masons believe in independent thinking and self-actualization. Cabot was also the president and founder of the Theosophical Society in 1946-47 in Desert Hot Springs.

Cabot's Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Before settling in the California desert, Cabot Yerxa led an adventurous life, traveling to Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, and Europe. In Paris, France he studied at the Academie Julian art school.

In 1913 (at age 30) Cabot homesteaded 160 acres in what is now Desert Hot Springs. Pressed for water, he dug a well with pick and shovel, discovering the now famous hot mineral waters of Desert Hot Springs. Nearby, he dug a second well and discovered the pure cold water of the Mission Springs Aquifer. These two wells, hot and cold, give the area its name—Miracle Hill.

Cabot began construction on his pueblo-style home in 1941 and worked on it until his death in 1965 at the age of 81.

The Pueblo

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Cabot Yerxa started building his Museum and home in about 1941 at the age of 57, although collecting the materials he needed to build the Pueblo started years before.

Cabot's Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Hopi-inspired structure is hand-made, created from reclaimed and found materials. Cabot was inspired as a young boy when he first saw a replica of a Southwest Indian pueblo at the Chicago World’s Fair. Much of the material used to build the Pueblo was from abandoned cabins that had housed the men who built the California aqueduct in the 1930s. Cabot purchased these cabins and deconstructed them to build his Pueblo.

The Pueblo is four-stories, 5,000 square feet and includes 35 rooms, 150 windows, and 65 doors. Much of the Pueblo is made from adobe-style and sun-dried brick Cabot made himself in the courtyard. Cabot modified his formula and used a cup of cement rather than straw to make his bricks.

Waokiye

Waokiye (Y-oh-kee-ay), means “Traditional Helper” in the Lakota Sioux language.

Created by artist Peter “Wolf” Toth, Waokiye was completed in May 1978. At the dedication ceremony on May 20, 1978 Toth simply said, “The American Indian is a proud and often misunderstood people…even as a young boy I had admiration for my Indian brothers and perhaps this monument, and all the others, will bring awareness of a proud and great people.”

Cabot's Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Toth was an immigrant to the United States from Hungary. His family fled from the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956. In learning about the Native American culture, he empathized with the tribes’ situation. He saw parallels to the violent repression of the Magyar people he experienced in Hungary.

Toth started his project, The Trail of Whispering Giants, to highlight the struggle of the American Indians for justice and recognition of their human rights. Waokiye is 27th in the series. The series has over 70 statues remaining throughout the United States, Canada, and Hungary. They represent all humanity and stand against injustice to all people. This philosophy is a mirror of Cabot Yerxa’s 50-year commitment as an American Indian Rights activist.

Tours

Guided tours are available October 1 to May 31 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tours are limited to 12 people.

Details

Cabot’s Pueblo Museum

Cabot's Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cabot’s Pueblo Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Season Schedule: October 1-May 31

Guided Tours: $11; seniors, active military, children ages 6-12, $9
Open: Tuesday to Sunday, 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

Address: 67616 E. Desert View Avenue, Desert Hot Springs, CA 92240
Phone: (760) 329-7610

Website: www.cabotsmuseum.org

Worth Pondering…

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.

—Arthur Ashe

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Top 7 Snowbird Hotspots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Palm Springs

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

Key West

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

Yuma

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

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

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

San Diego

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

Mission

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

St. Petersburg

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

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

Tucson

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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Top 4 Snowbird Destinations

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

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

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

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

Bella Terra of Gulf Shores (Alabama)

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

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

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

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

Bentsen Palm Village RV Resort (Texas)

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

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

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

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

Canyon Vistas RV Resort (Arizona)

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

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

Indian Waters RV Resort (California)

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

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Christmas Message from Vogel Talks RVing

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

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

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

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

Thank you for your readership this past year!

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

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

Merry Christmas are words of hope and joy.

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

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

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

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

May you all have a heartfelt and happy Christmas.

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

Forget sugar plums!

When you drift off to sleep tonight,

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

Acadia, Mount Rainier, and Yellowstone national parks

Sweet dreams and happy holidays!

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

Snowbird Christmas

Cranky as an RV space heater,

I groan and grumble in pre-dawn chill,

wait for the coffee pot to finish playing

reveille to my numb mind.

Shuffling around the RV Park,

Snowbirds and Winter Texans make mischief,

cackling like contented

chickens under the hot Arizona sun.

A grateful respite from grueling

gray cold fronts of International Falls,

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

Winnipeg, and Green Bay.

Amid chants of Go Packers Go!

A time of celebration and decorations

Christmas lights, ornaments, nativity scenes,

Wal-Mart Santas and reindeer

A plastic Jesus or two adorn motorhomes,

fifth wheel trailers, and old converted buses.

Christmas Eve, wrinkled faces gather

Credit: mcallencvb.com
Credit: mcallencvb.com

in the clubhouse by the artificial tree

reminiscing of Christmases past during simpler times

speaking of children in childish voices.

Merry Christmas and Seasons Greetings to all!

Worth Pondering…

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

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Tamales Are Red Hot at Indio Tamale Festival

Some residents and snowbirds who winter in the Coachella Valley look forward to this time of year to enjoy holiday lights, Christmas trees, and warm winter weather, but others wait year-round to feast on an array of delicious tamales.

Tamale Festival
What’s not to like? Tamales everywhere! So many tamales, so many vendors, so little time. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Being a foodie who loves tamales, I headed down to Old Town Indio last weekend (December 6-7, 2014) for the 23rd Annual Indio International Tamale Festival.

What’s not to like? Tamales everywhere! So many tamales, so many vendors, so little time. The festival featured outrageous, unique, and tasty tamale recipes bound to satisfy every palate. There wasn’t enough time in the fest, or room in my stomach, to try them all.

Each year the festival draws over 130,000 from all over the valley and the Inland Empire anxious to bite into rich tamales in flavors some have only dreamed of. Snowbirds also attend in large numbers anxious to sample this south-of-the-border holiday treat.

The fest, founded in 1992 by Dave Hernandez, has become one of the city’s signature events, and one that has helped brand Indio as the “City of Festivals.”

The popularity of the tamale festival continues to soar and gain national interest. Recently, the Food Network-TV showed its 70 million viewers Indio’s International Tamale Festival, and ranked the festival in the top 10 “All-American Food Festivals” in the nation.

Celebrating the rich heritage of the tamale, the festival offered tamale booths, a tamale-eating contest, an opening parade, the 2nd annual Car Show, an art and wine garden, a beer garden, Kiddieland, over 200 vendors, sponsor displays, family-friendly activities, and arts and crafts exhibits geared for all ages and interests.

Tamale Festival
Tamales are judged on flavor, texture of masa, appearance, filling, and aroma. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Live entertainment was featured on five stages. This year’s festival also featured an “artisan’s corner,” in which vendors sold a variety of handmade crafts including Christmas decorations, handmade soaps, and Christmas trees made of tamale husks.

Festival activities took place between Highway 111 and Indio Boulevard, winding through the streets of Miles, Towne, Smurr, and Requa. Easy to find. Easy to park even at mid-day. As in past years, admission into the festival was free to the public.

Free parking was available on numerous streets surrounding Old Town Indio, and free shuttle services were provided to festival visitors from the Larson Justice Center at Highway 111 and Oasis Street.

The festival began with the annual City of Indio/Tamale Festival Parade, featuring boxing champ Randy Caballero as Grand Marshal, riding with Indio Mayor Lupe Ramos Watson.

For the vendors—who each made anywhere between 2,000 to 5,000 tamales for the two-day stretch—there were no limits to their creativity.

Tamale Festival
My favorite—the spicy brisket tamale from Texifornia. So freaking delicious. The next best thing to Texas BBQ. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Texifornia Tamale Co. returned to defend its Best Overall Tamale contest win in 2013. Tamale recipes are often passed down from one generation to the next, but Jeff and Micki Smith of Texifornia Tamale Co. have concocted their own from Texas tradition.

Since the Smiths grew up in Texas on Texas style tamales which are more filling and less masa, they have our own unique little style.

My favorite—the spicy brisket tamale from Texifornia. So freaking delicious. The next best thing to Texas BBQ. And maybe, even better!

“The spicy brisket tamale is by far our best seller,” Micki shared with us. “We smoke the brisket for 12 hours and make an ancho chile tomato sauce and mix it together, so you get Texas BBQ and Mexican flavors in one tamale.”

Lots of other obvious things to find here such as tacos, pupusas, champurrado, and much much more. Lots of carnival food such as funnel cakes too.

The longest line was for Grandma Lupe’s but after braving the line for an hour and facing another hour plus before placing an order, I bowed out.

Tamale Festival
Always held the first full weekend in December, the dates for the 24th annual festival are December 5 and 6, 2015. Plan now to attend. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tamales are judged on flavor, texture of masa, appearance, filling, and aroma.

2014 Tamale Festival winners include:

  • Nana Chuy’s Handmade Tamales for Best Commercial Traditional Tamales
  • Me Gusta Gourmet Tamales for Best Commercial Gourmet Tamales
  • La Luz Del Mundo for Best Non-Profit Traditional, Best Non-Profit Gourmet, and Best Overall Tamales.

Tamales have been traced back to the Ancient Maya people, who prepared them for feasts as early as the Preclassic period (1200–250 BC). Mayans called their corn tortillas and tamales both utah.

Always held the first full weekend in December, the dates for the 24th annual festival are December 5 and 6, 2015. Plan now to attend.

Worth Pondering…

Hot Tamales (They’re Red Hot)

Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
I got a girls, say she long and tall
She sleeps in the kitchen with her feets in the hall
She got two for a nickel, got four for a dime
Would sell you more, but they ain’t none of mine
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
I got a letter from a girl in the room
Now she got something good she got to bring home soon, now
Its hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got em for sale, I mean
Hot tamales and they’re red hot, yes she got’em for sale
Yes she got’em for sale, yeah

—lyrics and original recording by Robert Johnson (1936); also recorded by Red Hot Chili Peppers (1991) and Eric Clapton (2004)

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Snowbird Destinations

Snowbirds flock to Ol’ Airy Zonie, Southern Texas, Florida, and other Sunbelt states and Mexico to avoid winter’s bite, snow and blowing snow, and treacherous icy sidewalks and streets. Northern Europeans are also known to migrate to the U.S. Sunbelt, adding to these communities of seasonal residents.

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

The available options are unlimited enabling snowbirds to design their winter lifestyle to suit their financial ability and social preferences.

The basic question is WHERE are YOU going to go? Do you prefer the Pacific or Atlantic coast or Gulf of Mexico with their sunny beaches, or arid desert? Is your preference for dry air or higher humidity? Do you enjoy fishing, boating, hiking, or biking?

The majority of snowbirds migrate straight south from their northern home. As a result most snowbirds from the Northwest tend to winter in Arizona and California; those from the Midwest in Texas; and snowbirds from the Northeast head to Florida.

Another consideration is finding an RV park that is within your budget. Even with the recent escalation of RV park rates, one can still find a spot for about $400/month.

Large snowbird parks offer a variety of activities: swimming, dancing, woodworking, quilting, lapidary.

With an RV, you have the freedom to check out places that appeal to you. Experiment before you decide to settle into one place. Or, like us, you may prefer to be “roving gypsies”.

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

Warm weather hubs such as Arizona, Texas, Florida, and California are tops for their predictable warm weather. But other states are also becoming popular—Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Arizona

The majority of snowbird resorts are centered around Mesa, Apache Junction, Tucson, Yuma, and along the Colorado River.

One of the hottest spots in terms of growth is YUMA (Yearly Uncontrolled Migration of the Aged), which doubles in population during winter months.

Any discussion of Arizona and snowbirds would be incomplete without mentioning Quartzsite, a rock-hound paradise since the 1960s. Quartzsite has been described as “$400,000 motorhomes towing $40,000 SUVs looking for FREE camping”.

Texas

The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida's most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Thousands of snow-weary Northerners flock to Texas during winter. In Texas—a state famous for adding its unique flair—migrating snowbirds have been dubbed “Winter Texans”.

Most congregate in one of two areas: Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley.

The majority of Winter Texans flock to “The Valley”, an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Winters tend to be mild and a bit breezy. With less expensive living costs, the Valley is arguably the best bargain in the U.S. for wintering in a warm climate.

Florida

Think Florida, and you have thoughts of dazzling white beaches, wind-swept palms, endless citrus groves, fresh-from-the-water seafood, delicious key lime pie, Kennedy Space Center, NASCAR drivers at Daytona International Speedway, well-manicured golf courses, the Everglades, Key West, Disney World, and other Orlando-area theme parks.

Florida is the only state where you can winter anywhere. The further south you go, the warmer the winter temperatures.

There are so many choices depending on your interests and budget. The cost of RV parks increases as you travel further south and with proximity to the Atlantic or Gulf Coast.

California

Winter weather is close to perfect in Palm Springs and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Winter weather is close to perfect in Palm Springs and the other desert resort cities in the Coachella Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The majority of snowbirds who make California their winter home, head for the Coachella Valley. This is desert country with an occasional oasis—some natural but mostly man-made. Known world-wide as “the golfer’s paradise”, golf courses abound.

Synonymous with the good life, Palm Springs is a retreat of the rich and famous, the ultimate in resort living. Swimming pools and fairways almost overlap. People who can afford to winter anywhere in the U.S. often do it here where winter weather is close to perfect.

In conclusion

Every fall when I hear the geese honking overhead, something starts pulling my inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose”. Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I pack up the RV and head south to the Sun Belt.

And, remember, getting there is half the fun.

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Will the Salton Sea Survive?

For decades, the Salton Sea, little more than a half-hour down Highway 111 from Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Indio, and the other desert cities of the Coachella Valley has lured all sorts of visitors looking to flee civilization for a few hours, a few days, or even the rest of their lives.

Salton Sea State Recreation Area is popular with snowbirds and other campers, birders, and boaters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The gutted buildings and miles of lonely desert beachscapes make a trip to the Salton Sea feel like a journey to the end of the world.

The Salton Sea State Recreation Area is one of 70 California state parks set to close starting next year, part of an effort to save the state $33 million over the next two fiscal years.

Advocates say the park’s impending closure is the latest sign that the survival of the Salton Sea, and the ragtag collection of settlements along its shores, is looking less likely by the day, The Desert Sun reports.

“Without the park as a major player in it, we see the future for the Salton Sea as pretty bleak,” said Bill Meister, board president of The Sea and Desert Interpretive Association, a nonprofit organization that works to promote the recreation area.

“It’s one of the very few things that are still available at the sea to draw people to stay. It introduces people to the sea; it keeps them there; and it keeps them coming back,” said Meister, a North Shore resident since 1985.

The recreation area drew more than 87,000 visitors in 2010, the lowest attendance of the region’s six state parks.

Its closure would have a huge impact on the sea’s already sparse economy, said Gail Sevrens, acting superintendent for the Colorado Desert District, a division of the California State Parks.

Salton Sea State Recreation Area is a birders' paradise. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

She pointed to a 2009 Sacramento State University study that found a state park visitor spends on average nearly $60 per visit, including about $25 inside the parks and neighboring communities.

“We’re concerned what this will do to the local community,” she said. Between six and seven full-time park employees now work at the recreation area.

The situation at the park is in stark contrast to the area’s heyday about 50 years ago.

Developers thought lakefront property would be a big draw for Southern California families who were more interested in boating and fishing than in golf.

They built a motel and yacht club in North Shore and laid out streets for vacation homes.

In the 1960s, the North Shore Beach & Yacht Club was part of a thriving resort community that drew the rich and famous, people like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Desi Arnaz. It was a playground where you could race boats, water-ski, bask in the sun, or sit back and enjoy a performance by the Pointer Sisters at a beachside four-star restaurant.

But by the 1970s, the area was well on its way to abandonment. The increasing salinity of the water from irrigation runoff, intense evaporation from the desert heat, fish die-offs, and the receding shoreline contributed to the rapid decline of resort life.  Decades later these yacht clubs, restaurants, and resorts lay in ruin, abandoned to time and decay.

When the Salton Sea Recreation Area opened in the early 1950s, it was the second-largest in the California park system, and at one point it drew more visitors than the Yosemite Valley, Steve Bier, a ranger at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, said in a new video posted on the Sea and Desert website.

For tranquility and warm winter temperatures, point the RV in the direction of Salton Sea State Recreation Area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Today the Salton Sea is home to millions of fish and thousands of migratory birds that take advantage of the sea’s high nutrient content and use the sea as a rest stop on their long distance journeys.

The 14-mile stretch of state beach offers fishing, hiking, camping, kayaking, bird-watching, and other outdoor activities.

Visitors pay an entrance fee at a main gate. They can hook up their recreational vehicle for $30 a night, camp at a tent site for $20 a night, or spend a day fishing and hiking for $5.

There is a Salton Sea Visitor Center run by Sea and Desert that displays artifacts and information about the lake. The center is open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays during the summer.

The park has already closed two of its six campgrounds and a portion of a third camping area to save money.

If you find yourself traveling in the American Southwest, add the Salton Sea to your itinerary. Yes, it’s out in the middle of nowhere, but its diversity and stark beauty make it a deserving destination. Bring water, bring your camera, and leave the outside world behind for a while.

You may love it as we do, or you may hate it, but either way, you’ll never forget it. The memory will remain etched in mind for an eternity.

Worth Pondering…
To quote one long-time Salton Sea local, “all the normal people have left or died.”

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Closing California Parks: Legal & Practical Issues

Following the announcement by Gov. Jerry Brown that California will close up to 70 state parks to save money, parks officials are facing dozens of practical questions that could complicate, delay, or possibly scuttle

Popular with snowbirds and other campers, birders, and boaters, Salton Sea State Recreation Area is one of the 70 state parks that California plans to close. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

the plan altogether.

The obstacles to shutting down parks range from state coastal laws that hamper efforts to close beaches to deciding whether to cite trespassers. Without a clear solution, state Parks Director Ruth Coleman also is considering a plan to simply leave the gates on closed parks open to the public, the Mercury News recently reported.

“We are working through this process on a trial-and-error basis,” she said. “We know there are liability issues. Our overarching goal is to preserve these resources. That’s our fundamental mission. If we can do that in a way that preserves public access, we will.”

Among the emerging problems:

Beach access laws

Eleven state beaches are marked for closure, but under the 1976 Coastal Act, the public cannot be legally blocked from walking along the state’s shoreline.

Any attempt to close off access will require a permit from the California Coastal Commission, said Peter Douglas, executive director of the California Coastal Commission. That could mean months of public hearings, reports, and potential lawsuits.

“If people are ticketed for walking across the state beaches, then we are going to be involved,” Douglas said.

Trespassers

The very popular Anza-Borrego Desert State Park south of the Coachella Valley will remain open. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Last year, 5.6 million people visited the 70 parks on the closure list. Some of them, particularly hikers and mountain bikers, will simply walk around closed gates. State parks rangers could write trespassing tickets with fines of up to $400 each. But that requires leaving rangers at parks, which could undercut the $22 million in annual savings Brown hopes to achieve with the closures.

Liability

In March, Brown signed a bill, AB 95, which absolves the state from liability if a person in a closed park is injured or causes damage. The new law has not been tested in court, however.

Politics

What if dozens of surfers, hikers, or mountain bikers show up at closed beaches en masse?

“I’m planning on continuing to go hiking in these parks anyway,” said Tom Taber, of San Mateo, author of The Santa Cruz Mountains Trail Book. “Maybe I just won’t carry any ID, and I’ll tell them my name is John Q. Public. What are they going to do, haul me in from miles away on some trail?”

No state has closed state parks on a significant level, in part because of political backlash and practical problems. But California has a larger budget problem than most states. If the closures go through, Brown would be the first governor since California’s state parks system began in 1902 to ever close a state park to save money.

Two years ago, then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger proposed closing 220 state parks, but dropped the idea after receiving 135,000 calls, emails, and letters in opposition.

Joshua Tree National Park is located near Coachella Valley, a haven for snowbirds escaping the rigors of a northern winter. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Closing dozens of parks poses huge maintenance costs.

“If you just close restrooms and leave them for five years, nobody believes you will be able to unlock them and start using them,” said Elizabeth Goldstein, executive director of the California State Parks Foundation. “You’ll have to repair the roofs and check the plumbing systems. If you leave trails, they’ll get overgrown. There are costs that way, way exceed the savings.”

Coleman noted her department is hoping for partnerships with cities, counties, and nonprofits.

“We’re looking for creative solutions now,” she said. “Our goal is to close as few as possible and to keep as much public access as possible.”

Worth Pondering…
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,

There is a rapture on the lonely shore,

There is a society, where none intrudes,

By the deep sea, and music in its roar:

I love not Man the less, but Nature more

—Lord Byron, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage

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