What’s Your Favorite Arizona Destination?

Could you choose just one?

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I tried, but found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination. Since every attraction has its own reason for making the list, it’s really like trying to compare apples to oranges.

I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Even then, I had to settle on leaving the list in no particular order. Yes, I know, that’s a cop-out, but maybe being drawn to varied outdoor adventures and activities explains why I’m so attracted to the RV lifestyle.

Arizona’s most visited attraction is, of course, Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park

No other canyon can compare with the most visited Arizona destination. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Visible from space, this massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona & Red Rock Country

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders. Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations in the US due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece.

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops, and spiritual-energy vortexes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Cactus & Saguaro National Park

Native only to the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus is practically synonymous with Arizona. Large and slow growing, saguaros can reach up to 70 feet tall and may not sprout an arm until they’re 100 years old.

Tucson is flanked on its western and eastern edges by Saguaro National Park, showcasing the giant cacti. Hiking is popular in both divisions of the park, but you can also drive the leisurely loop roads if you want to see the cactus forests from the comfort of your car. The park’s western division sprawls over the Tucson Mountains. In the eastern division, trails lead up from the saguaros into pine forests on the 8,000-foot summits.

Wildflowers & Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The precise prerequisites for a banner wildflower season—an early “triggering” rain, steady precipitation, and mild temperatures—make it about as reliable as a Vegas slot machine.

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak gets a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state. The ephemeral Mexican goldpoppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. The more reliable brittlebush resembles a shrub sprouting a bouquet of mini-sunflowers. Your best bet for both is March.

Other good places to enjoy wildflowers include Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Apache Trail, Maricopa County Parks, Saguaro and Organ Pipe national parks.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take desert creatures such as prairie dogs and Gila monsters and put them in a nearly natural outdoor setting. Add a dose of natural history and you have the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place.

The Desert Museum is unique among zoological parks for its focus on interpreting the complete natural history of a single region, the Sonoran Desert. The museum has two miles of paths covering 21 acres of desert and features hundreds of creature species and more than 1,200 varieties of plants.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

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Top 5 Picks for 2015

If Time can  pick a Person of the Year and Good Housekeeping can put its seal of approval all over everything, I figured that it was time to designate a few things of my own.

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

I begin with five of America’s most historic places/natural wonders.

Grand Canyon National Park

John Muir saw the Grand Canyon and called it “God’s spectacle.”

A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosion decorate the canyon that travels 277 river miles from Lees Ferry to the Grand Wash Cliffs, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep.

Nearly five million people see the Grand Canyon each year. Most of them see it from the park’s free shuttle buses or from their car at overlooks along the South Rim. Open all year, the South Rim is the most accessible part of the park.

A much smaller number of people see the Canyon from the North Rim of the park, which lies just 10 miles across the canyon from the South Rim but is a 220 mile by car—all the way around the canyon. Averaging 8000 feet above sea level, rises 1000 feet higher than the South Rim, and because of its remote location, is much less accessible than the South Rim and closed during winter.

A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Santa Fe

A combination of altitude, desert, and pueblos has produced a magical city that bears little resemblance to nearby Albuquerque or anywhere else for that matter. Santa Fe is the United States’ longest continuously occupied state capital. Located high and dry in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this well preserved center of Southwestern art and architecture attracts visitors with its galleries, cuisine, and play of light on its adobe buildings.

Santa Fe is referred to as “the city different,” a city that honors its Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo heritages and embraces its natural environment unlike any other in the United States. A city whose beautiful, brown adobe architecture blends with the high desert landscape and a city that is, at the same time, one of America’s great art and culinary capitals.

Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Acadian Farmstead is situated along the bank of Bayou Teche. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cajun Country

Adventures in culture, food, and music await in Cajun Country where life is on the spicy side.

With quintessential Louisiana flavors such as boudin, crackling, crawfish, gumbo, jambalaya, and hot sauce, Acadiana has all the makings for a taste-tempting trip. Louisiana’s landscape and history create a culinary tradition unlike any place else—and that makes it the perfect RV getaway for anyone who loves to eat.

But there is more to the Cajun appeal than just the food. Between bites of their tasty cuisine, boredom is never a problem in Cajun Country. Popular activities include dancing to Cajun and zydeco music, living history tours at Cajun historical villages, and air boat rides. Nature experiences are abundant on the Creole Nature Trail, an All-American Road.

Grand Circle Tour

RVing gives us an opportunity to get closer to and experience the beauty of nature. Photo above is Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
RVing gives us an opportunity to get closer to and experience the beauty of nature. Photo above is Capitol Reef National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The American Southwest is famous for incredible scenery, red rock pinnacles and formations, brilliant sunsets and deep canyons. Some of America’s most diverse scenery can be found within the Grand Circle—1,500 miles of the most scenic highways in the country.

You will visit six national parks—Zion, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands, and Grand Canyon; three national monuments—Cedar Breaks, Natural Bridges, and Grand Staircase-Escalante; one Navajo tribal park—Monument Valley; and pass by several state parks and other points of interest. Bold splashes of color, fascinating geologic shapes and the mysterious remnants of cultures await you at every turn.

Blue Ridge Parkway

The Blue Ridge Parkway provides spectacular mountain and valley vistas, quiet pastoral scenes, sparkling waterfalls, and colorful flower and foliage displays as it extends through the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia and North Carolina.

Connecting two national parks—Shenandoah in Virginia with the Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina—the Blue Ridge Parkway traverses 469 miles through blue-misted Appalachian highlands. Take in forest-blanketed mountain vistas, ripe for fauna (look for bear, deer, and beaver) and flora viewing (interesting factoid: the parkway’s namesake “blue” haze is attributed to the hydrocarbon release from the some 130 tree species).

Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park.
Anyone who has listened to John Denver sing about country roads and the Blue Ridge Mountains can easily imagine the transcendent beauty of Shenandoah National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Come in late spring for wildflower blooms (rhododendron, azalea); or, in fall (especially around mid-October) for Technicolor foliage displays.

Worth Pondering…

History, although sometimes made up of the few acts of the great, is more often shaped by the many acts of the small.

—Mark Yost

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Summer Time Means RVing Time

Hello summer!

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

School is out, the sun is shining, and the open road beckons. The best part about summer RV road trips is the glorious freedom that comes with them. No beach is too far, no river is too long, no mountain is too high. Just get behind the wheel of an RV and go!

Is there no better time of year to explore the best of America’s National Parks? Summer means early morning fishing, pristine nature hikes, and RVing in the great outdoors.

A road trip to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Joshua Tree, Zion, Carlsbad Canyon, Mesa Verde is a time-honored tradition, but there are so many other options out there. For more ideas on National Parks to visit, be sure to visit here.

Tour the Alamo and River Walk in San Antonio, My Old Kentucky Home and Bourbon Country in Kentucky, RV/MH Museum & Hall of Fame in Elkhart and the Indiana Amish Country, or Brunswick and the Golden Isles in Georgia.

Rugged mountains and crashing falls, towering forests and photo-worthy small towns are just some highlights on America’s scenic roads and byways. From the dramatic Oregon and California coast to history-lined thoroughfares of New England, there are countless scenic drives across the country—and some stellar standouts.

The state of Georgia has only about 90 miles of coastline yet holds approximately one-third of the entire marshland of the Atlantic seaboard. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The state of Georgia has only about 90 miles of coastline yet holds approximately one-third of the entire marshland of the Atlantic seaboard. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The winding 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway, for example, wends its way through the Great Smoky Mountains and Shenandoah national parks, past limestone caverns, clear mountain springs, and Appalachian majesty.

Looking for high country scenery, a road cut through desert sandstone and a drive that spans a national monument, a national park, two Utah state parks and a national forest? Utah’s 122-mile long Highway 12 National Scenic Byway between Panguitch and Torrey does exactly that, passing through the Dixie National Forest’s alpine splendor, portions of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument’s red-rock desert, Bryce Canyon National Park’s colorful spires, and Escalante Petrified Forest and Anasazi state parks.

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls”.

Known as Louisiana’s Outback, the 180-mile-long Creole Nature Trail meanders through marshes, prairies, and along the Gulf of Mexico. As you loop through Cajun Country in Southwest Louisiana, view alligators and birds up close and in the wild.

Walk where the valiant troopers of the 7th Cavalry died with Custer at the Little Big Horn. Hear bull elk bugle in Yellowstone. Drive the magnificent Wind River Canyon in Wyoming. You will be astounded at the beauty of America, awed by the sheer majesty of it all, and touched deeply by the welcoming smiles and kind words of strangers.

Sedona and Red Rock Country
Sedona and Red Rock Country, a vacation hotspot, has appeal for every member of the family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Touch glaciers in Montana and stand on the banks of the mighty Columbia, Mississippi, and Missouri rivers where Lewis and Clark explored. Marvel at the giant redwoods of California and the cliffs of the Oregon coast. Drive Route 66 across Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California.

From sea to sea, Canada is also filled with fascinating places and amazing destinations for the RV traveler. There are so many reasons to love Canada. Its premier destination spots include Vancouver, Niagara Falls, Ottawa, Quebec City, and Halifax.

Jasper National Park combines some of the most spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rockies with ease of access
Jasper National Park combines some of the most spectacular scenery in the Canadian Rockies with ease of access and less crowded conditions than Banff © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) joins the two mountain parks of Jasper and Banff in one of the most breathtaking, beautiful drives that anyone can travel in the world. A series of massive glaciers line the entire length of the Icefields Parkway, with the Columbia Icefield lying along the parkway at the southern end of Jasper National Park.

Traveling the highways and byways of the United States and Canada, there are scenic wonders to discover an explore.

Yes, it is true: Summer time means RVing time.

Let’s go RVing.

Worth Pondering…

Destination is merely a byproduct of the journey.
—Eric Hansen

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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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National Parks Impact Local Economies

The economic benefits for communities located near national parks and other recreation and scenic hot spots are significant—as long as access to those areas is preserved.

After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After entering Petrified National Park from the south we hiked the Giant Logs trail located behind Rainbow Forest Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service concludes that, nationwide, the country’s parks contributed more than $14.7 billion to gateway communities in 2012.

The report, “2012 National Park Visitor Spending Effects: Economic Contributions to Local Communities, States and the Nation,” reviewed the National Park Service’s 141 units across the country and analyzed the effects of tourism.

The peer-reviewed visitor spending analysis was conducted by U.S. Geological Survey economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber, and Lynne Koontz for the Park Service.

Across the country, the report showed $14.7 billion of direct spending by 283 million park visitors in communities within 60 miles of a national park. This spending supported 243,000 jobs nationally, with 201,000 jobs found in these gateway communities, with a cumulative benefit to the U.S. economy of $26.75 billion.

Nationally, spending by visitors in gateway communities near national parks included 30 percent on hotels, motels, and bed and breakfast outlets; 20 percent in restaurants and bars; 12 percent on gas and oil; 10 percent for admission and fees; 10 percent on souvenirs and other expenses; 7 percent on local transportation and 2 percent on camping fees.

Across the country, the National Park System units cover a total of more than 84 million acres.

Arches National Park is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The National Park Service report shows 2.2 million people visited Michigan’s four national park units in 2012, spending a total of $181.7 million in the towns nearby, which helped support a total of 3,221 jobs in those local areas.

The report revealed that visitors spent more than $4.6 million while visiting two national parks in northwestern New Mexico. Chaco Culture National Historical Park and Aztec Ruins National Monument had 83,788 visitors and supported 65 jobs.

Aztec Ruins had nearly 45,000 visitors who spent about $2.4 million, while Chaco Culture had about 39,000 visitors who spent about $2.25 million in 2012, according to the report.

Also in the Four Corners area, Mesa Verde National Park had about 488,000 total visitors who spent $46.7 million. The spending helped support 645 jobs in the area.

In California, Death Valley National Park hosted nearly 1 million visitors, Yosemite National Park saw more than 3 million visitors and Devil’s Postpile National Monument hosted 90,000 visitors in 2012.

The Death Valley report states that those visitors spent an estimated $78 million, supporting 929 jobs in communities surrounding the park, such as Lone Pine, Olancha, Shoshone, and Tecopa.

The Park Service has been measuring and reporting visitor spending and economic effects for the past 24 years.

A separate report indicates that the 2013 numbers tell a different story due in part to the 16-day government shutdown in October.

The Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area is the 10th-most visited property in the National Park Service, according to NPS 2013 visitation figures for America’s national parks.

Visitation is down in the recreation area, from 4.9 million in 2012 to 4.8 million in 2013.

The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The contribution of 4,298,178 visitors spending to Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona) amounted to 7,361 jobs, $194.112 million in labor income, and $346,447 million in value added. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The exact numbers — 4,970,802 in 2012 and 4,843,350 in 2013 — reflect a decrease of 127,452 visitors.

Nationally, the number of recreational visits to national parks in 2013 was 273 million, which was 9.1 million less than 2012 visitations.

“The shutdown reduced our visitation for the year by more than 5 million visitors who were turned away during those two weeks. These closures had a real impact on local businesses and communities that rely on the national parks as important drivers for their local economies,” NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis said.

Top 10 Most Visited Places in the National Park System

Golden Gate National Recreation Area: 14,289,121

Blue Ridge Parkway: 12,877,368

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

George Washington Memorial Parkway: 7,360,392

Lincoln Memorial: 6,546,518

Lake Mead National Recreation Area: 6,344,714

Gateway National Recreation Area: 6,191,246

Natchez Trace Parkway: 6,012,740

Chesapeake & Ohio Canal National Historical Park: 4,941,367

Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area: 4,843,350

Top 10 Most Visited National Parks

Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Landscape photography requires quality equipment and demands skills, lenses, and filters that will capture fine details and resolve contrast issues. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Great Smoky Mountains National Park: 9,354,695

Grand Canyon National Park: 4,564,840

Yosemite National Park: 3,691,191

Yellowstone National Park: 3,188,030

Olympic National Park: 3,085,340

Rocky Mountain National Park: 2,991,141

Zion National Park: 2,807,387

Grand Teton National Park: 2,688,794

Acadia National Park: 2,254,922

Glacier National Park: 2,190,374

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

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National Parks Lose $76M Per Day During Government Shutdown

The partial government shutdown’s toll on national parks can be measured in lost visitors, lost spending, and lost revenue to the US federal government.

When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park's namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
When you find yourself surrounded by twisted, spiky trees straight out of a Dr. Seuss book, you will have met the park’s namesake: Joshua tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lost revenue to the federal government, in the form of entrance fees and rentals equals $450,000 a day, according to a USA Today special report.

As the government shutdown enters its 11th day, more than 7 million Americans have been kept out of national parks and $750 million in visitor spending has been lost, with huge repercussions for the economies of gateway communities and entire states that depend on national park tourism.

BY THE NUMBERS: THE SHUTDOWN

715,000: Average number of National Park visitors each day in October 2012

$76 million: Amount local economies lose per day from people not visiting national parks, based on October 2012 data

$450,000: Lost revenue per day from entrance fees ($300,000) and in-park activities, such as campground fees and boat rentals ($150,000) at national parks

11: Number of days parks have been closed

These numbers were compiled by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees (CNPSR) and are based on October 2012 government park attendance data and an analysis of economic impacts by Headwaters Economics.

“These figures are mind-boggling, and they only begin to capture the full economic shock of the shutdown,” said Maureen Finnerty, CNPSR Chair and former superintendent of Everglades and Olympic National Parks.

“And it’s not just federal employees and visitors feeling the pain. Often, national parks support hundreds of hospitality jobs in surrounding communities.”

Almost 87% of the National Park Service’s 24,645 employees have been sent home during the shutdown, which started October 1 when Congress failed to enact a spending bill.

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

The following is CNPSR-gathered data for the lost visitors, visitor spending, and jobs at risk for 12 leading national parks across the United States:

Acadia National Park (Maine): 68,493 lost visitors in first 10 days, $5,263,013 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 3331 total jobs at stake, including 3147 local/non-NPS jobs.

Badlands National Park (South Dakota): 26,767 lost visitors in first 10 days, $656,986 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 475 total jobs at stake, including 375 local/non-NPS jobs.

Boston National Historic Park (Massachusetts): 54,794 lost visitors in first 10 days, $2,032,876 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1019 total jobs at stake, including 904 non-NPS jobs.

Cuyahoga Valley National Park (Ohio): 68,219 lost visitors in first 10 days, $1,545,205 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 819 total jobs at stake, including 599 local/non-NPS jobs.

Everglades National Park (Florida): 25,083 lost visitors in first 10 days, $3,857,534 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 2364 total jobs at stake, including 1951 local/non-NPS jobs.

Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania): 27,397 lost visitors in first 10 days, $1,796,712 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1141 total jobs at stake, including 1051 local/non-NPS jobs.

Glacier National Park (Montana): 60,273 lost visitors in first 10 days, $3,076,712 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1994 total jobs at stake, including 1632 local/non-NPS jobs.

Grand Canyon National Park (Arizona): 120,000 lost visitors in first 10 days, $11,750,684 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 6825 total jobs at stake, including 6167 local/non-NPS jobs.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park (North Carolina and Tennessee): 257,534 lost visitors in first 10 days, $23,123,287 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 11,766 total jobs at stake, including 11,367 local/non-NPS jobs.

Olympic National Park (Washington): 77,808 lost visitors in first 10 days, $2,912,328 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 1673 total jobs at stake, including 1395 local/non-NPS jobs.

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

Rocky Mountain National Park (Colorado): 80,821 lost visitors in first 10 days, $4,821,917 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 3033 total jobs at stake, including 2641 local/non-NPS jobs.

Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho): 98,630 lost visitors in first 10 days, $9,452,054 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 5572 total jobs at stake, including 4481 local/non-NPS jobs.

Yosemite National Park (California): 106,849 lost visitors in first 10 days, $10,021,917 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 5607 total jobs at stake, including 4602 local/non-NPS jobs.

Zion National Park (Utah): 72,876 lost visitors in first 10 days, $3,495,890 lost visitor dollars in first 10 days, and 2401 total jobs at stake, including 2136 local/non-NPS jobs.

A note on data: Visitation, economic impacts, and job numbers for the 12 parks are drawn from Headwaters Economics, Land and Communities, National Parks Service Units, Economic Impacts of Visitation and Expenditures. Top line numbers for NPS daily visitation provided by Coalition of National Park Service Retirees using National Park Service data.

Worth Pondering…

We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

—Wallace Stegner

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It’s a Dog’s Life at Grand Canyon Railway RV Park

Set in the mountain community of Williams, Arizona—Gateway to the Grand Canyon—the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park an ideal place to unwind and relax.

The Observation Dome is an unforgettable experience, thanks to a glass-enclosed streamliner that offers panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. (Source: thetrain.com)
The Observation Dome is an unforgettable experience, thanks to a glass-enclosed streamliner that offers panoramic views of the surrounding scenery. (Source: thetrain.com)

Adjacent to the historic train depot, the Grand Canyon Railway RV Park is just two blocks from Route 66 and downtown Williams.

Canyon Railway RV Park offers three types of RV spaces: pull-through sites, buddy spaces, and back-ins. All 124 sites have full service utilities with 50-amp electric service, cable TV, wireless Internet, access to the indoor swimming pool and hot tub at the adjacent Grand Canyon Railway Hotel.

The property has coin-operated laundry machines and a common picnic area with gas grills and a fire pit. Daily rates are $39.

Grand Canyon Railway Pet Resort

While pet parents enjoy a trip to the Canyon, their furry friends have something to wag about at the Grand Canyon Railway’s Pet Resort.

The Pet Resort boasts an entire residential wing for pets: 28 spacious rooms for dogs and 16 comfortable custom-made condos for felines. The Pet Resort is a modern retreat for pet parents who want to experience the iconic Route 66 in the town of Williams, an entertaining historic train ride, and take in the splendor of the Grand Canyon without leaving their four-legged family members at home or in a kennel far away.

Embark on a new era of luxury rail travel with the Luxury Dome Class, combining the breathtaking views of the Observation Dome with the opulence of the Parlor cars. (Source: thetrain.com)
Embark on a new era of luxury rail travel with the Luxury Dome Class, combining the breathtaking views of the Observation Dome with the opulence of the Parlor cars. (Source: thetrain.com)

It offers a safe, comfortable, secure, and modern environment while the staff ensures your furry friend will have a great vacation.

When checking in your pets to the Pet Resort, allow extra time the morning of your train departure. The Pet Resort recommends checking them in by 8:00 a.m. to ensure enough time for you to board the train.

The Pet Resort is available to guests of both the RV Park and Grand Canyon Railway Hotel, as well as Grand Canyon Railway passengers and the general public.

Dogs and cats are kept cool and comfortable with separate central air conditioning and evaporative air-cooling systems during the summer months, and heat in the cooler Northern Arizona winter months. That’s right—separate state-of-the-art air systems—because we all know how dogs and cats think of the others’ scent!

This may be the cleanest air in Northern Arizona, which is already known to have some of the cleanest air in the nation.

Our canine friends enjoy their own private indoor/outdoor space, with standard size runs 4 feet x 4 feet on the inside and 4 feet x 10 feet on the outside. For bigger dogs, there are four extra-large runs that measure 6 feet x 4 feet on the inside and 6 feet x 10 feet on the outside. All outdoor runs are covered for your dog’s contentment.

Canine guests also enjoy individual playtime in the exercise yard during their stay at the Pet Resort.

The Pet Resort has soft background music playing for your pet’s enjoyment.

To make their stay even more comfortable, you are encouraged to bring your pet’s favorites: food, snacks, beds, bowls, bones, chewing items, and toys.

All animals must have paperwork to provide proof of current shots.
Each cat condo is custom-made and has a sitting ledge. The cattery looks out to the basketball and volleyball courts: built-in entertainment! And there are plenty of windows to let in natural sunlight, making it the perfect setting for—you guessed it—a catnap.

The pet resort is conveniently located adjacent to the Grand Canyon Railway, Hotel, and RV Park.

The  Luxury Parlor Car is the most exclusive seat on the train. (Source: thetrain.com)
The Luxury Parlor Car is the most exclusive seat on the train. (Source: thetrain.com)

Daily rates begin at $16 for cats and $23 for dogs, with the option of adding a second cat or dog to the same kennel for just $12 and $16 respectively. Extended stays of seven nights or more are available for a weekly rate of $98 for cats and $140 for dogs.

Details

Grand Canyon Railway

Xanterra Parks & Resorts owns and operates the Grand Canyon Railway as well as restaurants and lodges in several national parks.

The Grand Canyon Railway operates year-round and departs Williams at 9:30 a.m. and returns at 5:30 p.m. daily.

Train rates start at $59/adult; $29/child. Numerous package options are available.
Address: 601 W. Franklin Avenue, Williams, AZ 86046

Phone: (800) THE-TRAIN (843-8724)

Website: thetrain.com

Worth Pondering…

Trains are wonderful… To travel by train is to see nature and human beings, towns and churches and rivers, in fact, to see life.
—Agatha Christie

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Best 10 National Parks for Camping

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

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

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina/Tennessee

Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Great Smoky Mountains National Park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ridge upon ridge of forest straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. World renowned for its diversity of plant and animal life, the beauty of its ancient mountains, and the quality of its remnants of Southern Appalachian mountain culture, this is America’s most visited national park.

One of the nation’s premiere camping destinations, the park offers four different types of campsites: backcountry, frontcountry, group campgrounds, and horse camps. Perfect for families, the camp’s 10 frontcountry campground locations are developed sites that accommodate tents, RVs, or pop-up trailers.

The National Park Service maintains developed frontcountry campgrounds at 10 locations in the park: Abrams Creek, Balsam Mountain, Big Creek, Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Deep Creek, Elkmont, Look Rock, and Smokemont.

Each campground has restrooms with cold running water and flush toilets. Each individual campsite has a fire grate and picnic table. There are no showers or electrical or water hookups in the park.

Maximum RV length varies with the campground.
Reservations are available for campsites at Cades Cove, Cataloochee, Cosby, Elkmont, and Smokemont. Advance reservations are required at Cataloochee Campground. All remaining park campgrounds are first-come, first-served.

Continue reading →

Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is home to 207 species of birds. Bird checklists are available at the visitor centers. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion National Park, Utah

Zion National Park is known for its incredible canyons and spectacular views. With its massive sandstone cliffs that range from light cream to deep red in color, driving or hiking through Zion is visually stunning.

With nearly three million visitors per year, Zion is Utah’s most heavily used park. Most park facilities are located in the Zion Canyon area, and it attracts the most visitors.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon near the south entrance at Springdale. The Lava Point Campground is about a 1-hour drive from Zion Canyon on the Kolob Terrace Road. There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons.

During June, July, and August, the campgrounds are full every night. Reservations at Watchman Campground are recommended.

Generators are not permitted at Watchman Campground, but 95 campsites have electrical hookups. There are no full-hookup campsites; a dump station is available for campers.

South Campground offers 127 campsites available first-come, first-served. There are no hook-ups; a dump station is available for campers. Generators are allowed from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. and from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

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

One of the seven Natural Wonders of the World, Grand Canyon National Park is a jewel in America’s national park system. Stretching 277 miles from end to end, steep, rocky walls descend more than a mile to the canyon’s floor, where the wild Colorado River traces a swift course southwest.

Advance campground reservations can be made for two of the three National Park Service (NPS) campgrounds within Grand Canyon National Park: Mather Campground on the South Rim (in Grand Canyon village) and the North Rim Campground. The NPS campgrounds do not have RV hook-ups.

The NPS Desert View Campground, on the South Rim of the park, and 25 miles the east of Grand Canyon Village, is first-come, first-served only. No reservations are accepted.

There is only one RV campground within the park with full hook-ups. It is located in Grand Canyon Village on the South Rim. Trailer Village is a concessioner operated RV park with full hook-ups. Reservations are recommended.

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Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series

Part 1: Top 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 3: 10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

Worth Pondering…
Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.
— John Muir

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Top 10 Most Visited National Parks in 2012

More than 282 million people visited America’s national parks in 2012, an increase of more than 3 million over 2011.

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

It was the sixth highest annual visitation in the history of the National Park Service, despite nearly 2 million fewer visitors as a result of park closures caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Since 1916, the National Park System has recorded more than 12 billion visits.

“The National Park Service strives to represent all that America has to offer,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“People come to national parks for many reasons—for recreation and to learn about American history by strolling through a battlefield. They come to listen to a park ranger at Independence National Historical Park and marvel at the Continental Congress. And people come to national parks for old-fashioned enjoyment of the great outdoors.”

National parks capture the story the United States, from its earliest days to the modern era.

Jarvis said, “The dedication of the Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial and the opening of the César E. Chávez National Monument in 2012 help us to continue to explore how our nation of many faces and many voices has developed.”

The challenges left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy will become part of American history, too. The storm slammed into 70 national park sites from North Carolina to Maine. Some parks closed briefly, others for weeks while the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island in New York remain closed for repairs.

Camping at Arches National Park, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Camping at Arches National Park, Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“The Statue of Liberty will reopen by the Fourth of July,” Jarvis said.

“It’ll take longer at the Ellis Island Museum. As we rebuild we keep sustainability front of mind. It is clear that our changing climate will bring more severe weather events, especially to coastal areas, and we must repair our iconic national parks to survive future storms.”

There are familiar park names in the Top 10 lists.

Gateway National Recreation Area in New York lost nearly 1.2 million visitors from 2011 because of Hurricane Sandy yet still made the Top 10 list of most visited National Park Service sites.

Most Visited Places of the National Park System (2012)

1. Blue Ridge Parkway (15,205,059)

2. Golden Gate National Recreation Area (14,540,338)

3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)

4. George Washington Memorial Parkway (7,425,577)

5. Lake Mead National Recreation Area (6,285,439)

6. Lincoln Memorial (6,191,361)

7. Natchez Trace Parkway (5,560,668)

8. Gateway National Recreation Area (5,043,863)

9. Gulf Islands National Seashore (4,973,462)

10.  Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area (4,970,802)

Most Visited National Parks (2012)

1. Great Smoky Mountains National Park (9,685,829)

2. Grand Canyon National Park (4,421,352)

3. Yosemite National Park (3,853,404)

4. Yellowstone National Park (3,447,729)

5. Rocky Mountain National Park (3,229,617)

6. Zion National Park (2,973,607)

7. Olympic National Park (2,824,908)

8. Grand Teton National Park (2,705,256)

9. Acadia National Park (2,431,052)

10. Cuyahoga Valley National Park (2,299,722)

The Saguaro National Park Eastern Rincon Mountain District rises to over 8,000 feet and includes over 128 miles of trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Saguaro National Park Eastern Rincon Mountain District rises to over 8,000 feet and includes over 128 miles of trails. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Details

National Park Service Visitor Use Statistics

National Park Service sites receive approximately 280 million visitors each year.

Historic and current visitor use statistics are available for 374 of the nearly 400 units included in the National Park System. (Statistics are not available for some areas; for example, those with joint administration of federal and non-federal lands.)

Website: irma.nps.gov/Stats

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: 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 American Gems

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

The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The guided tour of the Moody Mansion includes a history of the Moody family in the context of late 19th and 20th century Galveston and Texas. © 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:

The Florida Keys & Key West, Florida

The Florida Keys are a 106-mile-long chain of islands that begin at the very bottom of Florida’s mainland. Often referred to as America’s Caribbean, these islands are surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Gulf of Mexico on the other.

Key Largo is the first island south of the Florida mainland, and Key West is approximately 100 miles south of Key Largo on Overseas Highway. In between are the lovely islands of Islamorada, Long Key, Marathon, Big Pine Key, and many more. But only in Key West does the sun shine the brightest when it sets. Everyone gathers for the never planned, always varied Sunset Celebration on the Mallory Dock.

Galveston, Texas

One of the oldest cities in Texas and a major port, Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore, surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the U. S.

Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic Landmark District, Silk Stocking District, and Central Business District. It is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa, East End, and The Strand. There are approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

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Glacier National Park, Montana

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glacier National Park borders Waterton Lakes National Park in Canada — the two parks known as Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park were designated as the world’s first International Peace Park in 1932. Both parks were designated by the United Nations as an International Biosphere Reserve in 1976, and in 1995 as UNESCO World Heritage sites.

One defining feature of Glacier is the engineering wonder known as the Going-to-the-Sun Road. This spectacular 50-mile highway clings to the edge of the world as cars—and bikes—cross over the Continental Divide at Logan Pass.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona & Utah

Lake Powell is the second largest man-made lake in the U.S. stretching 186 miles across the red rock desert from Page, Arizona to Hite, Utah.

Access to Lake Powell and Glen Canyon by road is very limited. Activities are concentrated at the western edge, near Page, where various beaches, resorts, marinas, and campsites are found along the shoreline. At the far northeast end of the lake there are basic services and a few tracks leading to the water at Hite. The only other paved approach roads are to the Bullfrog and Halls Crossing marinas which are opposite each other and linked by ferry.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Grand Canyon National Park encompasses 1,218,375 acres and lies on the Colorado Plateau in northwestern Arizona. The land is semi-arid and consists of raised plateaus and structural basins typical of the southwestern United States.

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

Drainage systems have cut deeply through the rock, forming numerous steep-walled canyons. Forests are found at higher elevations while the lower elevations are comprised of a series of desert basins.

The Grand Canyon is considered one of the finest examples of arid-land erosion in the world. The Canyon, incised by the Colorado River, is immense, averaging 4,000 feet deep for its entire 277 miles. It is 6,000 feet deep at its deepest point and 15 miles at its widest.

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

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

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John F. Kennedy Space Center, Florida

NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center has helped set the stage for America’s adventure in space for five decades. The spaceport has served as the departure gate for every American manned mission and hundreds of advanced scientific spacecraft. From the early days of Project Mercury to the Space Shuttle Program and International Space Station, from the Hubble Space Telescope to the Mars rovers, the center enjoys a rich heritage in its vital role as NASA’s processing and launch center.

Please Note: This is Part 4 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

There is something very special about the natural world, and each trip outdoors is like an unfinished book just waiting for you to write your own chapter.

—Paul Thompson

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