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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RV Tourism to Alaska Declines

The once-common sight of a meandering, RV-driving summer tourist is becoming more of a rarity in Alaska, according to a new survey of visitors.

Alaska Beyond Your Dreams - Tourism Ad

Dubbed the Alaska Visitor Statistics Program, the survey is commissioned by the Alaska Department of Commerce every five years, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports. The 2011 survey was released March 19.

Border crossings at the Top of the World Highway, the Alaska Highway, and the Haines Highway slipped a combined 26 percent from 2006 to 2011, according to the comprehensive study.

The only border crossing to challenge the trend was the Klondike Highway between Skagway and Whitehorse, which saw a 17 percent increase in traffic.

Of an estimated 1.56 million out-of-state visitors, only 69,300 were highway and ferry visitors—a dip of 18 percent since 2006. Overall, the money they spent fell from $111 million to $71 million between 2006 and 2011, according to the study.

Heather Haugland, project manager of the survey conducted by the McDowell Group, said the drop in road traffic disproportionately affects communities in the Interior, which rely more on highway visitors.

“Certainly, Fairbanks has been a victim of that (shift),” Haugland said.

Rising gas prices are part of the reason for the dip in road travelers, tourism officials say, but time also appears to be an issue, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports. Even among retirees, fewer people have a month to spend on a leisurely drive to Alaska and back.

Alaska is one of the last true frontiers left on Earth and has something for everyone. (Source: trails.com)

“Americans have a time deficit, even retirees,” said Deb Hickok, executive director of the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. “The reality is the consumer is changing.”

Scott Reisland, the owner of Denali Grizzly Bear Resort, said he’s seen the effects of those changes on his business, and that it stretches back much longer than 2006.

RV traffic has plummeted so much in the past decade that he closed down a 98-space park near Denali National Park at the end of last summer. Only a second RV park he owns, with just 24 spaces, will reopen.

“There’s a lack of long-term time to go on a vacation in Alaska,” he said. “It’s a long-haul destination, and people are staying closer to home.”

What does Hickok make of the bigger picture? It’s hard to say, she admits.

Since the number of visitors peaked in 2006, the industry has gone through unprecedented times. The global recession saw Alaska visitor numbers plummet in 2009, and those numbers have only gradually recovered.

Since visitors to Alaska peaked at about 1.7 million in both 2007 and 2008, they’ve slipped down to about 1.56 million in 2011. Those declines have stopped for the first time since the recession, however, with a 1.6 percent increase last summer from 2010.

Because of that, Hickok said, gleaning information from visitor numbers in 2006 and 2011 leaves out a lot of upheaval in between. She’s wary to read too much into the figures, saying the numbers are better read as a snapshot in time rather than a gauge of future trends.

“People ask me how things are going to be in the next few years, but I won’t even venture a guess,” she said. “It depends on who you talk to.”

An estimated 325,000 visitors made it to Fairbanks in summer 2011, according to the survey, making it the eighth most popular destination in Alaska. Juneau, fueled by heavy cruise-ship traffic, topped the list with 917,000 visitors.

Denali National Park is especially popular, because it contains the highest mountain in North America, Mount McKinley. (Source: alaskathemajestic.com)

Fairbanks visitors were more likely to participate in cultural activities than people in most other regions, with tours of gold panning, mines, museums, and historic attractions claiming a large share of attention. The average visitor spent $354 in Fairbanks.

Fairbanks’ share of Alaska-bound tourists dipped slightly from 2006 to 2011, from 24 percent to 21 percent. Much of that change is because of decisions by some cruise ship companies to cut back on Interior side trips, Hickok said.

Hickok said she’s eager to see what an upcoming report on winter tourism reveals. Although the four-month summer visitor season brings about 70 percent of visitors to the state, there are indications that Alaska is making big gains as a winter destination.

“For winter, we’ve seen steady growth even through this recession—that’s our sense of it,” Hickok said.

Worth Pondering…

Sometimes you find yourself in the middle of nowhere, and sometimes in the middle of nowhere you find yourself.

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