4 Best National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. In an earlier post, Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers. Following are the four best national parks for RVers.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Far West Texas, along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, there’s a magical place with a great deal of silence, beauty, and space—creating an ideal habitat for the turkeys, javelinas, roadrunners, and coyotes.

The 801,000-acre park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and two Mexican states. But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars. The park bisects one of North America’s most significant deserts, the Chihuahuan, creating an abundance of variety.

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

But for an intimate look at the kivas and actual living accommodations take the 15-minute hike from the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to Spruce Tree House. If you would like to explore Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House guided by a ranger, stop by the Far View Visitor Center for information and tour tickets.

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills. But if you want one of the 15 full-hookup sites, reservations are a must.

Zion National Park, Utah

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

Follow the paths where ancient native people and Mormon pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon.

Catch a shuttle for Zion Canyon, the only vehicular means by which you can access this gorgeous area in the summer. And as you progress, soak up the splendor offered by the Court of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Sinawava with their secluded hiking trails.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Situated at 7,890 feet above sea level, the Lava Point Campground (6 primitive sites) is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. It takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes to drive to the campground from the South Entrance of Zion Canyon.

There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Private RV parks are also available near the park’s entrances.

Death Valley National Park, California

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

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Death Valley offers six campgrounds suitable for most RVs: Furnace Creek (136 sites, a few full hookups), Stovepipe Wells Village (190 sites; 19 full hookups), Sunset (270 non-hookup sites), Texas Spring (92 non-hookup sites), Mesquite Spring (30 non-hookup sites), and Widrose (23 non-hookup sites). A high-clearance vehicle is required to access Thorndike (6 non-hookup sites; 7,400-foot elevation) and Mahogany Flat (10 non-hookup sites; 8,200-foot elevation).

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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National Parks in the Movies

Have you ever watched a movie and thought the scenery was beautiful and wondered about the location? Chances are it was filmed in a national park.

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

In addition to all they give us in terms of outdoor recreation and environmental protection, the national parks also bring flair and realism to the movies. There is a long list of Hollywood stars who have acted on the nation’s outdoor stage. From far-away galaxies to jurassic jungles to the rustic Wild West, epic American landscapes have played most every imaginable role.

To honor that, Vogel Talks RV presents a list of five of the biggest parks cameos of modern film making. When planning your next road trip or summer vacation consider these iconic destinations.

National parks have served as backdrops for countless movies. Death Valley National Park played a role in Star Wars, Devil’s Tower National Monument, of course, was prominently featured in Close Encounters of a Third Kind, and Thelma & Louise drove through parts of Canyonlands National Park.

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

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977)

Location: Death Valley National Park, California

One of the most successful movies of all time, Star Wars wouldn’t be complete without footage from Death Valley. George Lucas selected Death Valley as the location for numerous desert and dwelling scenes on Luke Skywalker’s dusty planet of Tatooine. Remember R2D2 and CP30’s spat after crashing on Tatooine? That scene is at Mesquite Flats. Other Death Valley scenes include R2D2 being kidnapped by Jawas, some of the Tusken Raider scenes and the Sand Scrawler scene.

Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Canyonlands is the largest national park in Utah, and its diversity staggers the imagination © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When you do venture out to the desert, remember to bring plenty of extra water. And may the force be with you.

Other movies filmed at Death Valley include: Cattle Drive (1959), Homer and Eddie (1990), The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965), Zabriskie Point (1970), Spartacus (1960), One-eyed Jacks (1961)

Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977)

Location: Devils Tower National Monument, Wyoming

A single image is conjured when people think of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” The bizarre rock formation on which the spaceship lands was not a special effect, unless one considers nature a special effects expert.

The Devil’s Tower is, in fact, a 1,267 foot igneous intrusion and the chosen landing site for the movie’s alien mothership. Visitors have described an elevated sense of well-being and serenity at this small park’s signature volcanic pillar, a sacred site to more than 20 Native American tribes and perhaps certain extraterrestrials.

Thelma & Louise (1991)

Location: Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park, Utah

Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Desert scenes for this road trip movie were filmed in and around Moab, Utah, including in Canyonlands National Park and Arches National Park. Don’t be fooled by the final plunge-into-the-Grand-Canyon scene. That memorable scene of Thelma and Louise dropping into the canyon in their 1966 Ford Thunderbird was actually a plateau at Utah’s Deadhorse Point State Park.

Other movies filmed at Canyonlands include: The Lone Ranger (2013), 127 Hours (2010)

Other movies filmed at Arches include: Cheyenne Autumn (1963), City Slickers II (1993), Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), Josh and Sam (1992), Rio Conchos (1964), Sundown (1988), Wild Rovers (1966)

The Shining (1980)

Location: Glacier National Park, Montana

Opening scenes of this creepy Jack Nicolson movie show Jack Torrance driving up the Going to the Sun Highway in Glacier National Park. Overhead shots were also filmed around Mary’s Lake and the Going to the Sun Highway.

Other movies filmed at Glacier include: Cattle Queen of Montana (1954), Continental Divide (1980), Dangerous Mission (1958), Forest Gump (1993), and Thelma & Louise (1991)

The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The view from Dead Horse Point is one of the most photographed scenic vistas in the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) 

Location: Redwood National Park, California

Redwood National Park acted as the scene for most of the climax of Spielberg’s sweeping tearjerker. The towering forests were the perfect vehicle for a boy and his alien to lose themselves in.

Other movies filmed at Redwood include: Outbreak (1995), Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Worth Pondering…

In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.

—Aristotle

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China Ranch Date Farm

A lush oasis hidden in a desert valley, the beautiful China Ranch Date Farm, is worthy of a visit on your next journey near southern Death Valley.

China Ranch Date Farm is hidden away in a lush oasis near Death Valley.
China Ranch Date Farm is hidden away in a lush oasis near Death Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Using Wine Ridge RV Resort in Pahrump, Nevada, as our home base, we explored this lush piece of greenery near Tecopa, California.

Wandering down into this little palm lined haven situated somewhere between Death Valley and the Dumont Dunes, we discovered a gorgeous little river valley with some interesting geological formations and numerous hiking trails strewn throughout the area.

Imagine towering cottonwoods and willows along a wandering stream, date palms, and abundant wildlife, all hidden away in some of the most spectacular scenery the desert has to offer.

Nestled amongst a small group of homes, is this family owned and operated working farm along with a tiny little date shop, about half the size of a coffee shop, as well as a cool, clever little place aptly named the “Modest Museum”, which is more or less a shed depicting the early history of the ranch.

An unique little place aptly named the "Modest Museum" depicts the early history of the ranch.
An unique little place aptly named the “Modest Museum” depicts the early history of the ranch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It includes exhibits and artifacts from Indian sites and archeological digs, the pioneer families that were in the area in the early 1900s, and the mysterious Chinese man who is thought to have first settled this Mojave Desert canyon.

The Old Spanish Trail is within walking distance, as is the historic Tonopah & Tidewater railroad bed. Hike to nearby abandoned mines if you wish, or just relax and browse through our store.

Inside the shop is a variety of local goods especially made for or by China Ranch. Of course, you have your typical date related items; delicious date nut bread, cookies, muffins, date balls, and the ever-important and always delicious date shake.

Inside the store is a small fridge with Ziploc bags stuffed with fresh dates, and tags indicating the variety simply stapled on. The small scale of packaging makes this experience even more intriguing and personal.

Inside the shop is a variety of date related items; delicious date nut bread, cookies, muffins, date balls, and the ever-important and always delicious date shake.
Inside the shop is a variety of date related items; delicious date nut bread, cookies, muffins, date balls, and the ever-important and always delicious date shake. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not sure what to choose? Not a problem as visitors can sample their way through the dates, getting a sense of freshness and quality that China Ranch is bringing to the table.
Every single date is a winner, and there is a date for every taste. A favorite is the purple label “Hybrid” variety. These dates are jet black, almost looking like elongated black olives. They are extremely meaty with a creamy, rich, smooth texture, just like butter.

If you are interested in learning more about the wildlife, plants, or history of the area, try one of the interpretive guided nature walks. Learn about the geology, botany, birds, and early man in the area. The Old Spanish Trail comes alive again and much more.

Visiting China Ranch can be a wonderful one day adventure or highlight of any trip to Death Valley.

October through April are the best months to visit the ranch if you want to take in a few hiking trails, as summer temperatures can soar well above the century mark.

The Crack Trail provides a modest hike and the reward is a captivating view of a small waterfall on the Amargosa River as it flows south through the eastern edge of China Ranch.

Nearby in the town of Tecopa, visitors can immerse themselves in the desert mystique of the Amagosa Valley, the gateway to Death Valley National Park.

Here you will find the ruins of the Tecopa Consolidated Mining Co. and the added bonus of a soak at the Tecopa Artesian Hot Springs. The bathhouse is rustic and was used by miners in the early 20th century. Water temperature is an average 104 degrees Fahrenheit.

Artesian hot springs between fragile mud hills of Amagosa Valley is another refreshing stop.
Artesian hot springs between fragile mud hills of Amagosa Valley is another refreshing stop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The natural minerals in the spring water will leave your skin smooth and refreshed after a long day hiking and exploring.

There are also more than 200 camping and R. V. spaces available at Tecopa Hot Springs Campground.

Details

China Ranch Date Farm

Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. except Christmas

Location: 50 miles north of I-15, approximately 85 miles west of Las Vegas, off Highway 127 en route to southern entrance of Death Valley National Park

Address: P.O. Box 61, Shoshone, CA 92384

Phone: (760) 852-4415

Website: www.chinaranch.com

Worth Pondering…

Our happiest moments as RVers always seem to come when we stumble upon one thing while in pursuit of something else.

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2 National Parks That Are Best During Winter

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death Valley National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Bend National Park

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Death Valley National Park: Hottest, Driest, Lowest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Details

Death Valley National Park

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

Size: 3,372,401.96 acres

Vehicle Entrance Fee: $20 for 7 Days

2013 Visitor Count: 951,972

Worth Pondering…

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

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

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Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?

The US National Park Service is investigating a woman who recently traveled from New York to a series of Western states in order to paint unsightly drivel all over a number of America’s most pristine and most iconic national parks.

Overlooking Crater Lake National Park
Overlooking Crater Lake National Park

National Park Service investigators have confirmed that images were painted on rocks or boulders in Zion National Park and Canyonlands National Park in Utah; Yosemite National Park, Death Valley National Park, and Joshua Tree National Park, all in California; Rocky Mountain National Park and Colorado National Monument in Colorado; and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

Casey Nocket, 21, is responsible for this wave of vandalism and the primary suspect in the criminal investigation. She proudly documented her trail of painting vandalism and defended her brazen defacements on her “Creepytings” Instagram page—which should make the eventual raft of felony vandalism charges easier.

Nocket also has a “Creepytings” Tumblr page where she also defended her shockingly bad national park doodles.

“It’s art, not vandalism,” she insisted. “I am an artist.”

She also compared her renderings to the work of Banksy, the English graffiti artist and political activist. And she claimed the mantle of feminism.

“Most people are respectful but graffiti is a growing problem. There’s a difference between art and vandalism,” said Aly Baltrus, spokeswoman for Zion National Park.

Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?
Creepytings Vandalizes National Parks: How Stupid Can You Be?

In general, graffiti in national parks is a growing problem, said David Nimkin, senior regional director for the National Park Conservation Association, southwest region.

“I have a hard time believing that she (Nocket) didn’t realize what she was doing was wrong. I think she clearly had a different agenda,” Nimkin said.

Nocket admits to knowing that what she is doing is wrong in a Facebook message saying that she knows she is a bad person.

Investigators continue to collect evidence, conduct interviews, and are consulting with the U.S. Attorney’s Office about potential charges. They ask the public to exercise patience and allow due process to take its course as the investigation moves forward, according to a statement written by National Park Service spokesman Jeffrey G. Olson.

Prior to the Park Service’s investigation, some of Nocket’s paintings were removed. The image found in Rocky Mountain National Park was reported to the park and then removed late September before similar images were found in the other national parks, according to the statement. Ice and snow have covered the image at Crater Lake National Park, and it may not be accessible for assessment and clean up until next summer. An image in Yosemite National Park was removed by an unknown person or persons.

While authorities could not discuss details of this case, they did stress the seriousness of vandalism in a released statement:

Death Valley vandalism
Death Valley vandalism

“There are forums for artistic expression in national parks because national parks inspire artistic creativity. These images are outside that forum and outside the law.”

One of the reasons national parks have been designated is to preserve and protect the nation’s natural, cultural, and historic heritage for both current and future generations. Vandalism is a violation of the law and it also damages and sometimes destroys irreplaceable treasures that belong to all Americans.

“It’s not like we have a slush fund to go and clean up vandalism,” a national parks said.

“Dealing with this means we’re not doing something else.”

Creepytings Nocket must  be held accountable and punished to a reasonable extent of the law―and banned from all US National Park Service sites. She needs to be fined and do some community service and she definitely needs to realize the consequences of her actions.

But more importantly, I hope that everyone who’s as outraged about this senseless act of vandalism as I am can take that rage and turn it into something positive. Find a park you care about and volunteer some time to help clean up or maintain trails. Donate to a conservancy.

Or better yet, find someone who doesn’t understand what the big deal is about this and take them outside, show them what a little time in the wilderness can do, and let them find out for themselves.

Worth Pondering…

Life is hard; it’s harder if you’re stupid.

―John Wayne

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

National park visitors contributed $26.5 billion to the nation’s economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013, according to a peer-reviewed report.

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

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a news release.

“While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

National park visitation for 2013 declined by 3.2 percent compared to 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline. National parks in the Northeast, closed for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, were the other significant brake on visitation.

Visitor spending for 2013 was down by 1 percent. The number of jobs supported by visitor spending was off by 2.1 percent, and the overall effect on the U.S. economy was 1 percent lower than the previous year due to adjustments for inflation.

“The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” Jarvis said. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jarvis said visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013 and he expects a steady increase as excitement grows in advance of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The annual report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending within 60 miles of a national park, jobs supported by visitor spending, and other statistics.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent), and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

Total recreation visits and total visitor spending ($000s) in selected National Park Service sites follow:

Arches National Park, Utah: 1,082,866; $120,171.7

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: 1,311,875; $105,705.8

Carlsbad Canyon National Park, New Mexico: 388,565; $23,589.7

Death Valley National Park, California: 951,973; $75,255.1

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 1,991,925; $115,593.6

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,564,841; $476,194.8

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 9,354,695; $734,086.6

Joshua Tree National Park, California: 1,383,341; $62,929.9

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

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 6,344,714; $260,500.1

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 460,237; $45,089.8

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas: 515,381; $20,967.0

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas: 521,705; $28,576.1

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia:1,136,505; $72,402.6

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 3,188,030; $381,762.7

Yosemite National Park, California: 3,691,192; $373,269.8

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

Zion National Park, Utah: 2,807,387; $147,501.9

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: www.nps.gov

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.

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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.

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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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