Tailgating RV Style: The Next Four

We’re less than two weeks away from the opening of the 2015 college football season. It’s been a long, cold winter and a hot summer waiting for the season to get here, but it’ll be worth it once the nation’s best teams hit the gridiron again.

Auburn (Courtesy tailgateman.com)
Auburn (Courtesy tailgateman.com)

While your favorite players are preparing for the season, you should be preparing, too—for tailgating. Done properly, college football is an all-day experience, from loading up your car with the day’s supplies to the celebration following a thrilling victory for your team.

Tailgating is a huge part of that equation. Great food, beverages, and friends all make tailgating special, and there’s no better place to do it than at a college football game. Some places do it a little bit better than others, though.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we detailed the top four tailgating schools in college football. In today’s post we look at the next four.

Auburn

In Auburn, Alabama, football is religion. And the faithful have an incredible cathedral in Jordan-Hare Stadium, which will get even better this fall. Jordan-Hare seats 87,451 and will add the largest scoreboard in college football this season.

It’s the epitome of a Southern football experience, and Auburn fans get there early—like, days early—in their RVs, parking near Jordan-Hare and soaking up the feeling of college football in the SEC.

Auburn fans are friendly and cook a wide variety of foods, and they’re also friendly to visitors, offering a “War Eagle” to all passerby. If you love football and a good party, Auburn is not to be missed.

Texas (Courtesy gamedayr.com)
Texas (Courtesy gamedayr.com)

Texas

With a 6-7 record in 2014, the first season of Texas’ Charlie Strong experience wasn’t what any of the involved parties wanted. But that won’t change the enthusiasm around Darrell K Royal Texas Memorial Stadium, which seats 100,119 and is one of the nation’s nicest facilities, reflecting Texas’ rich athletic coffers.

Texas’ tailgating scene is large, rowdy, and somewhat spread out, as the university is located in Austin, which has a population of 912,000. If you’re in town for football, find some barbeque from one of the city’s best BBQ joints like Franklin Barbeque, or head out to Lockhart, the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Centennial Park, which is just across the street from the Erwin Center, Texas’ basketball arena, is an epicenter for tailgating, although not the only popular area.

Spend a Saturday tailgating in Austin with Longhorns fans, and there’s a good chance you’ll be hooked.

Clemson

Clemson (Courtesy tailgatershandbook.com)
Clemson (Courtesy tailgatershandbook.com)

Over the last seven years, Dabo Swinney has transformed Clemson into one of the nation’s best programs, with four consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins. That makes Clemson an elite program, but the truth is that the football is only catching up to the tailgating experience.

Memorial Stadium, which seats 81,500, will add an Oculus to its already impressive recent renovations. Clemson has an SEC-style game-day experience, with some fans arriving days before the game in their RVs to claim the best tailgating spots. On game day, stadium lots are full of fans who grill and put out amazing spreads of food that they’re happy to share with others.

Just make sure you’re in your seat in time to see the Tigers run down the east-end-zone hill in what Brent Musburger dubbed “the most exciting 25 seconds in college football.”

South Carolina

South Carolina (Courtesy ilovetotailgate.com)
South Carolina (Courtesy ilovetotailgate.com)

Last fall was a big disappointment in Columbia, with South Carolina’s four-year streak of 11-win seasons coming to an end with a 7-6 season. That certainly hasn’t dampened enthusiasm surrounding USC’s program, however.

Williams-Brice Stadium, which seats 80,250, is set away from South Carolina’s campus in what could be described as an industrial area of Columbia. However, on fall Saturdays, it comes alive with garnet-and-black-clad fans who flock from all over the Palmetto State to support the Gamecocks.

The centerpieces of the area are the Cockabooses, 22 tricked-out, repurposed former train cars which sit on a stretch of retired track near Willy-Brice. They attract the attention of college football fans on a regular basis and sell for up to $300,000 (in the rare event one comes on the market, that is).

Worth Pondering…

What started out with a few sandwiches and a couple of beers before the game…has evolved the tailgate party into great American sports tradition.
—Chiff.com

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Tailgating RV Style: The Top Four

Tailgating and football go hand in hand, but on college campuses around the country, the fans often take it to another level. The union of football and tailgating is a marriage celebrated every Saturday with a “renewal of vows.”

Ole Miss (Courtesy of live.oxfordms.com)
Ole Miss (Courtesy of live.oxfordms.com)

It’s a combination of passionate, lifelong fans, the excitement of young college crowds, and of course, the good ol’ pigskin.

Another college football season is almost here. Get out the grill, stock up the cooler, and let the party begin!

Here’s a look at the top four tailgating schools in college football. This is not a scientific list, but rather one that was ranked based on, err…OK, my biases.

Ole Miss

Mississippi is home to the legendary Grove, Ole Miss’ tailgating location for generations. A 10-acre, tree-lined area which does not allow automobiles, the Grove is a mecca for Rebel fans and one of the most unique tailgating environments in college football.

Tailgating and football have been one and the same here since the game first took hold over 100 years ago. Unlike some places where the fans are rowdy, the atmosphere at the Grove is welcoming, family-friendly, and even “sublime.”

2014 was a special year in Oxford. With coach Hugh Freeze’s guidance, Ole Miss finally had a football team worthy of its tailgating success. The Rebels won nine games and upset then-No. 1 Alabama at home, sending The Grove into convulsions of excitement.

You can find all sorts of Southern food there and a genteel atmosphere that lends itself to incredible people-watching. Tailgating goes above and beyond at Ole Miss. It’s a must-do for any serious college football fan.

LSU (Courtesy of LSU)
LSU (Courtesy of LSU)

LSU

If you have a college football bucket list, an LSU home game has to be on the list. It’s one of the most unique and raucous environments in college football, both for the experience inside Tiger Stadium and the atmosphere that surrounds it.

Tiger Stadium seats 102,321, which makes it the fifth-largest city in Louisiana on game days. LSU fans are rabid, arriving well before games in their RVs and setting up tailgates across campus well before kickoff on Saturday.

Louisiana knows how to do one thing better than any state in the country—Cajun! The dishes you’ll see prepared on a Saturday outside the stadium are truly amazing. Not only do you have some of the nation’s best fans, but they bring the absolute best food to the table too—duck, gumbo, sausage, craw fish, etouffee, and grilled alligator.

The food might be better than the football. LSU fans are friendly and willing to share with visitors, and they cook numerous Cajun and Creole dishes that are a delight to the senses. It’s a unique experience and may be the best in college football.

Alabama

Alabama (Courtesy bamahammer.com)
Alabama (Courtesy bamahammer.com)

Since his arrival eight years ago, Nick Saban has done plenty to restore Alabama to national relevance, most notably with three national championships. But even before Saban came to town, the Crimson Tide already boasted a rabid fan base. His success has only ignited their fervor.

Following a recent expansion, Bryant-Denny Stadium now boasts a seating capacity of 101,821, and Crimson Tide football remains one of the toughest tickets to get in America.

It’s also a fun tailgating experience, with some fans arriving days in advance to claim parking spots for their large motorhomes.

Chances are, you’ll hear more than your share of “Sweet Home Alabama” and, with an Alabama win, the famous “Rammer Jammer” chant. It’s a must for any serious college football fan.

Texas A&M

Texas A&M (Courtesy youtube.com)
Texas A&M (Courtesy youtube.com)

The fans at Texas A&M have been compared to a cult. They take their football so seriously that the old saying “Football is a religion in Texas” couldn’t possibly ring truer.

Texas A&M is only beginning its fourth season in the SEC, but the Aggies have shown they’re a perfect fit for the league on the field and in the tailgates. College Station lives for Aggie football, and it starts on Friday nights before home games with Midnight Yell practice.

Following a recent $450 million renovation, Kyle Field seats 102,512 fans, making it the SEC’s largest stadium and the fourth-largest in college football.

Be sure to try some brisket and beer while you’re in town, and don’t forget to visit the gravesite of A&M’s Reveille collie mascots outside Kyle Field, which famously has a working scoreboard on site.

Worth Pondering…

Graham is as Southern as black-eyed peas, scuppernong wine, she-crab soup, Crimson Tide tailgating and a dog with ticks. She is so relentlessly Southern she makes me feel that I was born in Minnesota!

—Pat Conroy

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Taste a Texas Tradition: BBQ, Tex-Mex & More

There’s much more to Texas cuisine than just juicy, succulent steaks.

Taste a Texas Tradition: BBQ, Tex-Mex & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Taste a Texas Tradition: BBQ, Tex-Mex & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The rich heritage of Mexican, German, and Czech influences have provided for a plethora of decadent Texas dishes that fill the bellies and warm the hearts of all who try them.

Taste the famous Texas BBQ, Tex-Mex, and European-influenced dishes for yourself.

In Texas, food is more than a meal. It’s their culture and way of life. Across the state you’ll find award-winning BBQ, the original Tex-Mex, truly astounding seafood and the best chili to ever grace a bowl.

From five-star restaurants and renowned chefs to undiscovered food joints manned by tomorrow’s culinary superstars, there is a flavor for every palate. So grab a fork and your taste for adventure and “come ‘n get it.”

BBQ

Yes sir! Yes ma’am! They do up some mighty fine BBQ in Texas. Texas barbecue means beef, and usually brisket. It means smoked brisket, and usually for a long time over low heat.

They slow cook some of the sauciest, savoriest barbeque the world has ever dreamed of.

Taste a Texas Tradition: BBQ, Tex-Mex & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Taste a Texas Tradition: BBQ, Tex-Mex & More © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Barbecue can be traced to Texas’ German immigrants, who brought their smoking and butchering culture with them when they arrived in the middle of the 19th century. And what did they butcher? Cattle, of which Texas already had millions. And how did they cook it? Over coals from native wood like oak, which was also plentiful. This is why Texas barbecue is so different from the pork-and-sauce style common elsewhere in the U.S.

The first barbecue joints were meat markets where the beef was smoked in the back and sold over the counter.

It’s like Texas is its own little country when it comes to barbecue. Beef is still king, and it’s the pride Texans take in their barbecue. Which anyone can see whenever they walk into a place like Smitty’s Market, Black’s Barbecue, and Kreuz Market in Lockhart—or any of the other hundreds of places in Texas that make up the Republic of Barbecue.

Even if you don’t remember the Alamo, you will surely remember licking your fingers clean in Texas.

Tex-Mex

All over the world, people enjoy Tex-Mex, but in the Lone Star State, this cuisine is king. Texans with Mexican roots created the delicious hybrid, so it’s no surprise that the most memorable—and authentic—plates hit tables close to the border. From tasty tacos to grilled steaks and cheese-filled tamales, Texas Tex-Mex will leave you feeling full and happy.

When you’re in the Kemah/Seabrook area south of Houston and have a craving for excellent Tex-Mex food and great margaritas, try La Brisa. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you’re in the Kemah/Seabrook area south of Houston and have a craving for excellent Tex-Mex food and great margaritas, try La Brisa. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Although you often see them on Tex-Mex menus, tamales are not modern Tejano creations. In fact, tamales may have been consumed as early as 7000 B.C. Because they can be made in advance and stored for long stretches of time, tamales became essential for early Latin American communities—particularly those on the move or immersed in war.

Tex-Mex food dishes commonly use the ingredients of garlic, sour cream, cilantro, beans, avocado, cheese, and chorizo, a spicy Mexican sausage that originated from Spain.

Chiles are also important in Tex-Mex food dishes. Ranging from sweet and mild to mouth-on-fire hot, they are added to a variety of dishes. Chiles that are used in Tex-Mex food include ancho, jalapeno, and the hottest of them all, the habanero pepper.

If you haven’t tried the unique combination of Tex-Mex, you’re missing out, amigo! It’s the absolute best of Mexican cuisine with some Texas flair. When it comes to spice, you can get it a little bit country or a little bit rock n’ roll. Just ask your waiters for guidance. And more salsa, please!

Vineyards

You might not have guessed that Texas has developed into one of the biggest and best wine-producing states around. Their unique climate provides ideal growing conditions for a variety of wines, and they’ve been cultivating vines for centuries.

More than 275 wineries and 4,400 acres of grapes call Texas home, with many of the state’s best wines coming out of the Texas Hill Country. (Image courtesy Texas Department of Agriculture)
More than 275 wineries and 4,400 acres of grapes call Texas home, with many of the state’s best wines coming out of the Texas Hill Country. (Image courtesy Texas Department of Agriculture)

More than 275 wineries and 4,400 acres of grapes call Texas home, with many of the state’s best wines coming out of the Texas Hill Country, the second largest AVA in the United States. Surprising considering how under-the-radar these Mediterranean-styles wines have flown, despite the top-notch varietals coming from the region. Be sure to try Texas’ Viognier, Marsanne, and Albarino if you’re a white drinker; red lovers will revel in Texas’ Tempranillo, Sangiovese, and Tannat.

Check out dozens of scenic, and seriously palatable, wine rails, tours, and tastings. Wine trails are an excellent way to experience multiple Texas wineries in one trip.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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A Slice of Texas BBQ Style

There’s hardly a better way to discover a slice of Texas, so to speak, than with a barbecue road trip—especially one that travels through Central Texas with some of the state’s greatest smoked meats.

City Market in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
City Market in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the most impressive barbecue bounties you’ll travel to towns that aren’t necessarily on the way to anywhere.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas as designated by the Texas Legislature. It’s a small town that supports a big barbecue reputation.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart: With new Sunday hours just starting here, you can now make Kreuz Market (since 1900) part of your itinerary any day of the week. I like the weekdays when it’s rare to find a long line. The pressure of a hungry, looming crowd can make one rush an order, but pay attention to what goes on the cutting block and make sure to tell the cutter—which might be the mutton-chopped Roy Perez—if you have a preference like end cuts or fattier slices of beef. Get the shoulder clod and the pork chop along with a link of the jalapeño sausage.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smitty’s Market in Lockhart: It’s hard to find a better place to eat barbecue than this brick building that dates from 1924. Barbecue was first served here when it housed Kreuz Market which moved out in 1999. Smitty’s opened shortly after with a menu almost identical to Kreuz, but don’t miss the glazed pork ribs which are a popular departure. Prime rib comes off the pit at 11:00am and sells fast. Watch out for the open fires when standing in line, and be sure to leave some time to explore the historic building.

Black’s BBQ in Lockhart: With the feud between Smitty’s and Kreuz, sometimes Black’s gets lost in the mix. If you’ve forgotten about it, the billboards in every direction will remind you when you get to town. Follow them to what is consistently the best brisket in Lockhart. There are also enormous beef ribs to enjoy and some incredible smoked turkey for barbecue dabblers.

Smitty's Market
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q in Lockhart: The locals love it, but it’s usually ignored by barbecue travelers. I love the sausage, and everything here is a bargain.

City Market in Luling: There are three meats on the menu: brisket, pork spare ribs, and beef sausage. Try them all, but bring some cash. Ordering is done in the back room on the other side of the swinging doors, and don’t ask for beans. This room is only for meat, and the sides and drinks are sold at the front counter. One of my favorite bites in Texas barbecue is the sausage at City Market slathered generously with their signature sauce.

Luling Bar-B-Q in Luling: Unlike City Market across the street, this joint has a huge menu. Choose from a half dozen meats and twice as many sides.

Prause Meat Market in La Grange: If you walk in the front door, a wide glass case full of raw meat might make you wonder if you came to the right place. Enter around back like the locals and you’ll walk right through the pit room to order. Homemade sausage and the pork chops are the best options.

Prause Meat Market
For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than the wonderfully quirky Prause Meat Market right on one corner of the town square in La Grange. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Texas BBQ Bucket List

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a foodie would have a Texas BBQ to do list.

Snow’s BBQ in Lexington: Being in line by 9:00 a.m. (opens at 8) will give you a good chance of having your pick of the meats. The brisket is obviously the prize, but the pork steak is a favorite of many—including Tootsie Tomanetz, the (nearly) eighty-year-old pitmaster.

Eating at Snow’s is like scaling Mount Everest: Only the hardy and fully prepared reach the summit. Snow’s is in the middle of nowhere. Furthermore, the window of opportunity is minuscule, because it is open only on Saturday mornings. On top of that, Snow’s septuagenarian guru of ’cue, Tootsie Tomanetz, cooks a limited number of briskets, chickens, pork ribs, and pork butt. When they’re gone, they’re gone. So get there early! Your reward is the most celestial barbecue in Texas—that and the knowledge that you are one of the few, the brave, who have summited Snow’s.

Southside Market in Elgin: It’s not in the original building, but this is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas still in operation. They’re famous for their sausage, or “hot guts” which aren’t as hot as they used to be. Use the hot sauce at the tables to make a pool on your tray and dip the links into it for a kick. Do the same with the great smoked chicken and the mutton ribs which are a rarity in Texas.

Luling Bar-B-Q © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Luling Bar-B-Q © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor: They open at 10:00 on Saturday morning, so don’t worry about getting here too early from Snow’s. The lines at the height of lunch can be daunting, so try to make it here before 11:00. Those who like a little heat will crave the heavy black pepper rub, but amp it up a little with a link of the house made jalapeño or chipotle sausage. A whole beef rib will be tough to tackle for single diners—it can feed a family of four with a few sides added on—but it’s one of the signature trophy cuts in Texas barbecue. Settle in and enjoy the historic building before heading down the street.

Worth Pondering…

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious barbecue. It is the source of all true art and science.

—Albert Einstein

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4 Great Restaurants From Our Road Trips Across America

During the past 18 years, we’ve driven over 125,000 miles in varied RVs as we explored America from the Oregon Coast to the Outer Banks and from the Upper Peninsula to the Rio Grande Valley.

Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We visited over 40 states and ate hundreds of meals of varying quality: some were good, some thankfully very forgettable, and others of “OMG I can die happy now” quality.

These meals—whether in a high-quality seafood restaurant overlooking a scenic waterway, a smokehouse in BBQ Country, a small diner in Cajun Country, or hole in the wall—showed us the diversity of food in America—and ooh so delicious.

After all those meals, here are four of our favorite restaurants in the U.S. where we received delicious, high-quality, and affordable food. If you’re road-tripping across the country or just visiting these cities and towns, be sure to pop into one of these restaurants.

Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas

Texas may be best known for beef, but its bay oysters rank second to none. Texas oysters are impeccably fresh—whether served on the half shell with a kiss of salt air and Texas hot sauce or shucked for a sauté or creamy stew.

When in the Galveston area, a trip to Stingaree Marina and Restaurant in Crystal Beach is at the top of our list of “must-do” events. It is not just the food, it’s the whole experience.

Located on the Intracoastal Waterway on the bay side of Bolivar, the Stingaree is famous for many things: the beautiful sunsets seen from its deck, the giant tug boats and barges that pass within feet of its windows, and wonderful Gulf Coast seafood—barbecue crab, fried catfish, shrimp, and oysters, Red Snapper Ponchartrain, Crabmeat Au Gratin, etouffee, and one of the best seasonal dishes you’ll find anywhere on the Gulf Coast—Oyster Jubilee.

Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas

Blink and you’ll miss Moulton—but that would be a mistake. Turn west off Texas 95 onto Moore Avenue, and see what I mean.

During the past 40 years, Harvey and Diana Kloesel have turned a former grocery-café into a popular eatery. The Kloesels charbroil choice steaks. Other fare ranges from fettuccine to blue-plate specials, plus luscious pies and cheesecakes. The salad dressings and sauces are family recipes prepared fresh each week. The Kloesels also feature their own private label of Steak Sauce which is served in their restaurant.

Following lunch continue south 10 miles to tour the “little brewery in Shiner”.

La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Plazuela at La Fonda Hotel, Santa Fe, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

La Fonda on the Plaza is Santa Fe’s most historic and authentic hotel and restaurant experience. This charming, landmark hotel has delighted travelers since the early 1920s when the original hotel was built on the oldest hotel corner in America. Indeed, early records show a fonda, or inn, on the historic corner of San Francisco and Water Streets since the founding of Santa Fe in 1607.

But, it wasn’t until two centuries later, when Captain William Becknell completed the first successful trading expedition from Missouri to Santa Fe—which came to be known as The Santa Fe Trail—that the original adobe hotel, literally “at the end of the trail,” came into its own.

We’ve had several memorable meals at La Plazuela at La Fonda. The food is wonderful and the atmosphere incomparable with friendly, helpful, and efficient staff. It’s truly one of Santa Fe’s treasures.

La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico

La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visiting Historic Mesilla is like stepping back in time. With its territorial style buildings, the town square looks much like it did back in the 1850s when it was home to Pancho Villa, Kit Carson, Billy the Kid, and Judge Roy Bean.

Mesilla also offers some of the finest New Mexican cuisine, including that of the nationally renowned La Postas de Mesilla, with an atmosphere that’s an experience in itself. The menu and the recipes that create its savory New Mexico style dishes are the same as they were when the restaurant opened back in 1939.

New Mexican cuisine relies heavily on chiles and the food served at La Posta is no exception. The dishes we’ve had during our three visits were excellent.

There are many reasons to visit La Posta—the history, the ghosts, the ambiance, and the authentic New Mexico cuisine. Come for all of the above. You’re guaranteed not to be disappointed!

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

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Getaway To New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Whether you are a nature-lover, photographer, adventurer, or just looking for an amazing experience, a road trip to New Mexico will not disappoint.

Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Utah and Arizona, much of New Mexico is saved for all to enjoy as wilderness in state or national park format. Be it petroglyphs or stone dwelling from ancient residents, pictographs, or trails left by religious and mercantile travelers, hiking over huge lava fields or pristine white sand dunes, going subterranean for weird cave formations and bats, or dipping your toes or a paddle in the Rio Grande, there is much to engage the outdoor lover.

The true Southwest awaits you in Albuquerque, a city with a name that is as much fun to spell as it is to say.

On the west edge of Albuquerque, Petroglyphs National Monument is best explored with hiking shoes, a digital camera, and binoculars. Three separate sections of the park showcase different rock art and require various levels of physical fitness. A nice afternoon can be made of exploring all three. Scrambling over rocks to locate the ancient pictures will make you feel like a child exploring for treasure. A zoom lens helps for capturing images on odd rock faces.

Once you are done following the trail of ancient art, head into Albuquerque and immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage, rooted in centuries of history. Soak in the blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year-perfect for outdoor activities. Breathe in the high desert air scented with sage and piñon, and you’ll understand why Albuquerque is a destination like no other.

Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boca Negra Canyon Unit of Petroglyph National Monument provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Sandia Mountains looming over Albuquerque provide an impressive backdrop for a city with a good, friendly vibe. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and you may be fortunate enough to witness a red- and pink-hued sunset that reminds you of this succulent fruit.

Quintessential Adobe brick houses line older neighborhoods, a walkable downtown encourages exploration and the blend of Native American, Latino, and Anglo cultures provides art and cuisine as a feast for the eye and the palette.

New Mexico is home to 22 Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and 19 pueblos. Each tribe is unique and has its own traditional language, customs, values, prayers, songs, ceremonies, traditional attire, and way of life.

The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore the Native American heritage. A majority of the 19 pueblos are located in northern New Mexico. Reminders of Native American presence are throughout the state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock.

Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights
Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about these tribes and Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center features a museum, restaurant, gift shop, regular dance performances, and offers information about visiting the pueblos and a calendar of feast days and other events.

Seventy-two miles to the east, El Malpais National Monument intrigues the visitor with vast fields of lava flows. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations.

The name El Malpais, or badlands, certainly seems to fit the bill here. It is hard to imagine anyone needing to cross mile after mile of broken, rocky, rough lava, but there is indeed a trail that does so. Better to see each side of the park by driving and checking out the many scenic viewpoints and shorter trails.

Just down the road at El Morro, the massive monolith carved with graffiti from travelers stopping for rest and water will make you ponder those who have passed this way before.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded spring–fed water hole, Anasazi/Zuni traders, Spanish Conquistadores, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on Inscription Rock, a soft sandstone monolith.

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.

Whether you are looking for a dining experience that has received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

Worth Pondering…
If you ever go to New Mexico, it will itch you for the rest of your life.

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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Central Texas BBQ Legends

Barbecue is food group. Each region has its own style, it’s preferred meat.

Smitty's Market
Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, beef is king. Brisket is meltingly tender and there’s not enough time in the day, or room in my stomach, to try it all. In fact, when in Central Texas I look at a LOT of BBQ and allow myself to really indulge in tasting a LOT of BBQ.

And while Texas barbecue is a topic that inspires near-religious fervor and heated debate from its devotees, many barbecue die-hards can agree on one thing: Central Texas is the pinnacle of all the smoked meat meccas, a prime reason I return to Central Texas on a regular basis.

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024 to make Lockhart the official Barbecue capital of Texas and the Senate followed suit in 2003, confirming what many already knew to be true.

For such a small town—population roughly 13,000—Lockhart is home to a mighty impressive lineup of time-honored barbecue restaurants that draws visitors from far and wide. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Each one is famous in its own right, but at 82 years old and counting, Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart’s picturesque downtown is one of the oldest family-owned barbecue  restaurants in the state of Texas.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the 19th century, scores of Germans and Czechs emigrated to Central Texas, bringing along traditional foods like sausage and kolaches. Many grocery and meat market businesses were established by these immigrants, and it was from these markets that the institution of Central Texas barbecue was born.

“These pioneers (brought) with them a style of meat-smoking from the old country that involved salt, pepper, meat, and wood. Whatever fresh meat they couldn’t sell, they would smoke and sell as barbecue,” wrote Katy Vine in Texas Monthly.

“As demand grew, the markets evolved into barbecue joints, though the style of service didn’t change much. The meat was still sliced in front of the customer in line and served on butcher paper. Sauce generally wasn’t offered.”

True to form, Black’s Barbecue was originally founded as a meat market and grocery during the Depression. As was typical in those days, leftover meat was utilized to fuel a brisk side business of BBQ.

Fifty years after Black’s was founded, the family got out of the grocery game, but by then the BBQ part of the business had taken on a life of its own. And while the barbecue sauce now flows freely, the smoked meats are still served up on butcher paper just like they were so many years ago.

Smitty's Market
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Customers are funneled through a narrow corridor that shuffles them through a salad bar where side items like deviled eggs, picnic-style potato salad, and pinto beans are served up buffet-style. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find glistening slabs of brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing a picturesque fire blazing in the waist-high ancient brick pit and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices.

A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison, and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks.

Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame.

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender.

 Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black's Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

On a recent trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Good Sam Announces Top RV Parks for Food Lovers for 2014

The Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory announced its list of Top RV Parks for Food Lovers for 2014.

Good Sam 2014-Top Food-Lovers-ParksGood Sam editors and consultants chose the list of RV Parks for Food Lovers from the annual publication’s database of 8,000 private parks.

The RV parks on this list are located in regions known for distinctive local cuisine or in areas that host popular food festivals.

From RV parks in fertile farming regions to campgrounds in sophisticated cities, the list of Top RV Parks for Food Lovers is a virtual smorgasbord of culinary styles and tastes.

Highlights of this list include:

  • For some RV parks, providing excellent culinary service is part of the customer experience. At Michigan’s Thunder Bay Resort, guests can partake in Elk Viewing Dinner Ride Package, in which gourmet dinner is cooked on two antique wood cook stoves and served in an rustic setting.
  • Some resorts cultivate their own food. Nevada’s Wine Ridge RV Resort for example, serves vintages produced from the vineyard and winery located on the property. In addition, the resort’s Symphony Restaurant has earned five-star ratings in a number of food guides.
  • Other parks offer the full resort experience. At Pechanga RV Resort in Temecula, California, RVers can play a round of golf on the Journey golf course and stop by the award winning Journey’s End restaurant for a delicious meal while enjoying scenic views of the course

Facts about food-loving RV travelers

Weikel's Bakery, La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Weikel’s Bakery, La Grande, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A survey by RVAdvice.com revealed that 86 percent of RVers try the regional dishes when they travel.

Fifty-six percent of those sampled say they’re willing to travel up to 25 miles for a good meal, while 32 percent said they’d trek up to 50 miles to satisfy their taste buds

Food festivals such as the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California and Maine Lobster Festival attract many RVers eager to try new flavors.

Top RV Parks for Food Lovers

British Columbia
Hazelmere RV Park & Campground, Surrey

California
Pechanga RV Resort, Temecula

Connecticut
Seaport RV Resort & Campground, Mystic

A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Michigan
Thunder Bay Resort, Hillman

Nevada
Wine Ridge RV Resort & Cottages, Pahrump

North Carolina
Asheville Bear Creek RV Park, Asheville

Texas
Austin Lone Star Carefree RV Resort, Austin

Utah
Salt Lake City KOA, Salt Lake City

Wisconsin
Hidden Valley RV Resort & Campground, Milton

Good Sam RV Travel Guide

Café Des Amis in historic downtown Breaux Bridge hosts a world famous Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning and a spectacular Sunday brunch served all day. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Café Des Amis in historic downtown Breaux Bridge hosts a world famous Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning and a spectacular Sunday brunch served all day. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A different category of Top Parks will be featured each month in articles released by the Good Sam RV Travel Guide.

In addition to comprehensive listings of RV parks and campgrounds across North America, the 2014 Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory features travel itineraries, helpful maps, and informative tips that RVers need for a journey anywhere in North America.

Additional camping and RV Travel information is available on the Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory Camping Blog.

Worth Pondering…

I am not a glutton—I am an explorer of food.

—Erma Bombeck

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Luling: Barbecue Central

Some people dream of a “land flowing with milk and honey.”

Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Barbecue fans head to downtown Luling to satisfy their craving for City Market’s succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But I dream of one that’s rich with Texas barbecue…and watermelons.

The good news is that such a magical place exists in the Central Texas town of Luling.

And while its downtown may be just a few blocks long, Luling houses two of the state’s best barbecue joints.

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, Texas, is just such a place.

For more than 50 years, this old-school market has been turning out succulent brisket, hot links, and pork ribs that patrons purchase straight off the pits at the back of the dining room.

The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. From Monday through Saturday, the unpretentious red building on a corner of East Davis Street becomes the epicenter of activity in Luling. People drive for miles just to eat lunch there and consider it well worth the trip.

Customers form two lines at this gastronomic heaven—one to select their meat and pick up pickles and white bread or crackers in the back room, and the other for drinks (this is Dr. Pepper country) and sides—be sure you try the beans.

This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The meat is sold by the pound—except for sausage; it’s by the link—and then wrapped in butcher paper, which serves as a plate. You’ll find the spicy, mustard-laced sauce in bottles on the long, wooden tables.

This is the arguably the best barbecue in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Customers usually include a mix of local folks and out-of-towners, blue-collar workers and suits, families, and couples. You never know who will be sharing your table, but not to worry, you’ll make a connection over the mouth-watering barbecue.

The first bite of a generous rib was a revelation—tender, salty, fall-off-the- bone succulent.

The perfectly crisp yet moist brisket emanated an addictive woodsmoke flavor. After sinking in my teeth, it was tender like I’ve never known brisket to be. It was savory, smokey, and with just enough chew.

And the homemade beef sausage! It was epic! The link was smokey, juicy, peppery, and savory. The crisp skin and the juices running out with every bite enhanced the flavor. It alone was worth the journey.

As for sauce? You forgot about the sauce, but it’s in a glass bottle right in front of you. And when you get around to tasting it—a thin, orange-ish, deliciously mustardy concoction—the signs imploring you to “Please leave sauce bottles on tables” suddenly make sense.

In fact, your yearnings now met, your hopes fulfilled—suddenly everything makes sense.

You can get your barbecue to go, of course.

Luling Bar-B-Q also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Luling Bar-B-Q also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With this kind of competition, you might think that other barbecue joints wouldn’t stand a chance in Luling. But no, Luling Bar-B-Q also faces East Davis Street, on the other side of U.S. Highway 183. The fact that the restaurant exists at all is testament to the fact that it also serves good barbecue; some locals actually prefer its version to City Market’s.

A great way to polish off a barbecue lunch in Luling is with a slice of watermelon. If you’re in season cross the street to the Farmer’s Market, where hundreds of locally grown melons await.

I’d go back in a heartbeat, and miss it already.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 4-Part article

Part 2: Luling: Texas Black Gold

Part 3: Luling: Sixty-One Years of Thumpin’

Part 4: Luling: Texas-style Promised Land

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Words of wisdom from an Oklahoma Cowboy

Will Rogers was quite the cowboy, with all the wisdom of simple, honest folk. His words still ring with common sense today…
Will Rogers, who died in a 1935 plane crash with his best friend, Wylie Post, was probably the greatest political sage the country ever has known.
Enjoy the following:
1. Never slap a man who’s chewing tobacco.
2. Never kick a cow chip on a hot day.
3. There are two theories to arguing with a woman…neither works.

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