Low Loonie Expected To Bring More RVers to Canada

It doesn’t take an economist to understand what’s happening with the Canadian dollar.

The newly opened Glacial Skywalk over the Athabasca Glacier (Jasper National Park, Alberta) lets you experience waterfalls, wildlife, fossils, and more on an exciting cliff-edge walkway that leads to a platform where glass is all that separates you from a 918-foot drop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The newly opened Glacial Skywalk over the Athabasca Glacier (Jasper National Park, Alberta) lets you experience waterfalls, wildlife, fossils, and more on an exciting cliff-edge walkway that leads to a platform where glass is all that separates you from a 918-foot drop. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The loonie is under pressure and that is not great news for Canadian snowbirds. But it is good news if you’re a Canadian in the export business.

RVers and other traveling visitors to Canada is another group that will benefit from the currency exchange. At present, one US dollar is worth $1.25 Canadian. With the loonier being lower than it has been in years, many RVers and travelers from out of country will no doubt view Canada as a place where they can stretch their money further and get more out of their vacation dollar than in other destinations.

While a deflated loonie will entice more people to visit Canada, Canadians thinking of traveling to the U.S may rethink that trip this summer and keep their dollars at home. That’s bad news if your kids are keen to head to Disney World or Southern California this year. But it’s welcome news for Canadian tourism, which can expect more domestic travelers and a long-needed increase in American visitors, who will take advantage of the lower loonie.

Another boon to RV travel this summer is the exceptionally low fuel prices.

The beautiful Okanagan Valley of southern British Columbia is a summer tourism mecca. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The beautiful Okanagan Valley of southern British Columbia is a summer tourism mecca. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Canada’s greatest tourism partner is the United States. According to the Canadian Tourism Commission, Canada welcomes approximately 10 million overnight visitors from the US each year. In recent times, no other country has contributed more than 1 million travelers.

Tourism is an $84-billion industry in Canada that directly employs more than 600,000 workers and supports another 1 million jobs, according to the Tourism Industry Association of Canada. That’s 9.2 per cent of all jobs in the country. Anything that can boost the industry is viewed as a pleasant change after a flurry of events since the start of the century caused headwinds.

Gabor Forgacs, associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Tourism and Hospitality at Ryerson College, explained that Canada lost half of US visitors because of a much higher dollar and new passport requirements that were introduced in the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorists attacks. Canada also had to withstand the negative news around the SATS crisis in 2003-04 and, like the US, and just about every other country, was adversely impacted by the global economic recession from 2008-12.

A major travel destination renowned for its vast natural landscapes and stunning scenery, Canada is a great place to create RVing memories for you and your family.

Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America’s northern neighbor offers visitors a truly unique vacation experience with a exceptional diversity of natural attractions. Whatever adventure you may seek, Canada has a destination.

From the rugged Pacific coastline and ancient rain forests of British Columbia, across the majestic Rockies and the rolling wheat field plains of the prairie provinces, past the great waterways of the east and on to historic sites and small fishing villages along the Atlantic coast…Canada has it all!

Some of the finest National Parks anywhere in the world are found in Canada. The peaceful serenity of the parks, the unique wildlife, and the jaw-dropping scenery create magical RVing memories.

The Canadian Rockies are stunningly beautiful and immense, with spellbinding views of snowcapped peaks, glacial lakes, fast-flowing rivers, and endless forests. Within the Canadian Rockies is some of the most beautiful, serene and, at the same time, breathtaking scenery on the earth’s surface.

You will never tire of RVing in Canada because over the next horizon there is something amazing to see and experience.

Tourism centers in British Columbia and Alberta are also expecting the low Canadian dollar will bring more American travelers through the region on their way to Alaska.

The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) joins the two parks of Jasper and Banff in one of the most breathtaking, beautiful drives that anyone can travel in the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Icefields Parkway (Highway 93) joins the two parks of Jasper and Banff in one of the most breathtaking, beautiful drives that anyone can travel in the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Samantha Gibeault, tourism development coordinator for Dawson Creek, British Columbia, says the spin-offs this year for the local economy in the Mile Zero City could be bigger than in previous summers.

According to Gibeault who recently attended a travel convention in Florida, the low dollar has many on the East Coast of the United States talking about making the trip to Alaska.

“Because they are on the East Coast, it’s different because it’s a long haul trip, but there were a number of people who said the (Alaska Highway) trip has gone from number five on their list to number one, because they now have more money the second they cross the border.”

Although last summer’s numbers were strong, Gibeault is hoping for as much as a 15 per cent increase in 2015.

Worth Pondering…

I always thought of this as God’s country.
—Jack Granatstein

Read More

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros

Here is our plan: We’ll drive to a town that shouldn’t exist. We’ll travel a twisted ribbon of pavement along Historic Route 66.

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Driving to the historic town of Oatman is a favorite Arizona road trip.

Once a gold-mining boomtown, Oatman hunkers in a craggy gulch of the Black Mountains, 28 miles southwest of Kingman. Rising above town is the jagged peak of white quartz known as Elephant’s Tooth.

Often described as a ghost town, Oatman comes close to fitting the category, considering that it once boasted nearly 20,000 people and now supports just a little over 100 people year-round.

Oatman has about 40 gift, antique, and craft shops, two Old Time Photo Shops, Judy’s Bar, assorted ghosts, and several places to eat and listen to live music.

Though Oatman is only a shadow of its former self, it is well worth a visit to this living ghost town that provides, not only a handful of historic buildings and photo opportunities, but costumed gunfighters and 1890s style ladies strolling the wooden sidewalks, as well as the sights of burros walking the streets.

The burg’s most famous residents are its four-legged ambassadors. Burros from the surrounding hills wander into Oatman daily and mosey around town blocking traffic, greeting visitors, and chomping carrots sold by the shop owners.

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No matter how tame they seem, the burros are wild animals. Use caution and common sense when feeding them. Do not feed junk food to the burros. Also, it’s best to leave Rover at home. Many burros consider the family pooch nothing more than a coyote with connections.

The burros are descendants of animals used by miners and abandoned when the ore played out.

Oatman owes its place in history to two miners who struck it rich in 1915, uncovering more than $10 million in gold. A tent city soon sprang up as other miners heard of the gold find and flocked to the area; within a year, the town’s population grew to more than 3,500.

By 1930, it was estimated that 36 million dollars worth of gold had come from the mines. The town boasted two banks, seven hotels, twenty saloons, and ten stores.

The town’s name is attributed to Olive Oatman, a young girl kidnapped by Indians and eventually rescued and returned to her family.

More modern events add to the allure of the tiny town, the most famous of which is a visit by Clark Gable and Carol Lombard, who spent their honeymoon in the Oatman Hotel in 1939. The well-used building, listed on the National Historic Building Registry, continues to attract visitors today.

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you notice folks clustering in the street without a ravenous burro in sight, it signals an impending gunfight. Gunfighter groups stage shootouts at various times throughout the day.

When the mines shuttered, the stream of traffic along Route 66, the main route from the Midwest to California, kept Oatman alive.

Then in 1952, Interstate 40 was constructed from Kingman, Arizona to Needles, California, bypassing this stretch of mountains. Oatman barely hung on.

In the 70s, Laughlin, Nevada started up; and in the late 80s, Route 66 became a popular destination for tourists from around the world.

Today, a half-million people visit this historic outpost each year. Not bad for an old ghost town off the beaten path. The town  just waited for the world to come back around.

Folks start to roll out of town in late afternoon. Even the burros clock out and mosey back into the hills.

Oatman is a day trip full of surprises—of ghost towns and ghost roads, and wild burros. And one of the most scenic drives in the state.

Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Oatman: Living Ghost Town, Gunfighters & Burros © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that’s something to bray about.

Worth Pondering…

So many ghosts upon the road,
My eyes I swear are playing tricks;
And a voice I hear, it’s Tom Joad,
Near Oatman on Route 66.

—Dave MacLennan

Read More

Legend, History & Intrigue of the Superstitions

Strange secrets lie hidden in the Superstition Mountains in Arizona.

Superstition Mountain Museum
To further understand and appreciate the Superstition Mountains area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Did a lone miner really discover a fortune in lost gold in this rugged region?

And what strange force caused dozens of adventurers seeking the mine to vanish without a trace never to be seen again?

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.

The early inhabitants of the area included the Salado, Hohokam, and Apache Indians. Following came the Spanish conquistadors, the first of which was Francisco Vasquez de Coronado who came north from Mexico in 1540 seeking the legendary “Seven Golden Cities of Cibola”.

When the Spaniards searched the mountain for gold, they began to vanish mysteriously. The bodies that were found were mutilated with their heads cut off. Since the terrified survivors refused to return to the mountain, Coronado named the series of peaks, Monte Superstition.

The mountain became a legendary spot to all who followed and was regarded by many as an evil place.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.
We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, jail, and other displays of authentic relics of this era. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

American trappers and adventurers migrated to the area; cattlemen and farmers soon followed. Later, the U.S. Cavalry was sent west to establish forts to protect the growing population.

Decades later, miners began searching for what was touted as the richest gold mine in the world. This mine was made famous by Jacob Waltz, known as “the Dutchman”, who took the secret of “his mine” to the grave in 1891.

Treasure hunters continue to scour the mountains searching for the Lost Dutchman Mine, but now share the region with campers, hikers, backpackers, and horseback riders in what is now the Superstition Wilderness Area.

To further understand and appreciate the area, its legend, history, and intrigue we recently toured the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum.

Located east of Lost Dutchman State Park, the museum collects, preserves, and displays the artifacts and history of the Superstition Mountains, Apache Junction, and the surrounding area.

We traversed the nature trails that crisscross the area surrounding the museum buildings, all located at the base of the West Wall of the beautiful  Superstition Mountain.

We wandered the entire site with its reproductions of 19th Century businesses including a Wells Fargo office, stage coach stop, barber shop, assay office, and other displays of authentic relics of this era.

No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver
No western movie set is complete without a stagecoach and driver. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Museums in their own right, the Elvis Memorial Chapel and the Audie Murphy Barn were moved to the site, piece by piece, nail by nail, and reconstructed following the second fire in 2004 (first fire was in 1969) which destroyed the Apacheland Movie Ranch.

Western motion pictures and television were filmed at Apacheland Movie Ranch over a 45 year period. Movies filmed included Charro, which starred Elvis Presley, The Ballad of Cable Hogue, Arizona Raiders ,The Haunted, The Gambler II, and Blind Justice. Television series included Have Gun Will Travel and Wanted Dead or Alive.

A movie memorabilia museum showing movies that were filmed at Apacheland, the Elvis Memorial Chapel also serves, as it has since it was first constructed, as a wedding chapel. Contact the museum for reservations (SEE Details below)

Twenty eight days were required for five men, all volunteers, to disassemble and move the 20 Stamp Ore Crusher from Albuquerque to the museum site. This mill was state of the art technology for recovering gold in the 1800s.

Another major building spared in both fires has long been called the Rifleman’s Barn since it was located where the TV series, The Rifleman, was produced. The barn also figured prominently in dozens of western films shot at this location.

It was moved in literally hundreds of pieces to the museum’s grounds and reconstructed almost entirely of its original materials. Its loft serves as storage area while the ground level displays wagons, buggies, stage coaches, and other vehicles representing the Old West.

For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction.
For legend, history, and intrigue no area in America has the equal of the Superstition Mountains in the Tonto National Forest east of Apache Junction. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Be sure to watch your step as you traverse the trails because there are rattlesnakes (yes, we saw one) and other varmints.

Indoors, the museum has many books, documents, artifacts, and maps regarding the Lost Dutchman and his gold.

Details

Superstition Mountain Museum

Location: On Apache Trail (Highway 88)3½ miles northeast of Apache Junction

Address: 4087 N. Apache Trail (Highway 88), Apache Junction, AZ 85119

Phone: (480) 983-4888

Hours: Open daily 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.

Admission: $5.00; seniors 55 and over, $4.00

Website: www.superstitionmountainmuseum.org

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

Read More

China Ranch Date Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details

China Ranch Date Farm

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

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

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

Phone: (760) 852-4415

Website: www.chinaranch.com

Worth Pondering…

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

Read More

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise

Hunting Island, the most popular state park in South Carolina, attracts more than a million visitors annually and was recently named a top 10 beach Trip Advisor.

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

On the well-preserved, five-mile stretch of South Carolina coast you’ll find a maritime forest, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, and the pristine sandy beach.

Hunting Island State Park is only 29 miles off Interstate 95, the main corridor between Florida and the Northeast, approximately halfway between Savannah and Charleston.

Approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, the park encompasses 5,000 acres of sandy beach, maritime forest, and saltwater marsh. It is classified as a true semitropical island.

The island got its name because it was once used for hunting deer, raccoon, and other small game animals and waterfowl. Once used as the hunting preserve for wealthy planters’ families, Hunting Island was renowned for its hunting parties that lasted several days.

Hunting Island possesses the best developed slash pine-palmetto forest in the state and is one of the best sites to observe South Carolina’s state tree, the Cabbage Palmetto, in its native habitat.

Cabbage palmettos stretch out onto the sands of the magnificent beach, which is more than 400 feet wide in places at low tide.

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The beautiful beach is not the only attraction at Hunting Island. The salt marsh is one of the most productive habitats in the world. Rich in nutrients, the salt marsh provides food and shelter for many different life forms. It is the home of waterfowl, small mammals, and many amphibians and reptiles.

Most marine life is also directly or indirectly dependent on the salt marsh. Some, such as the shrimp, live and spawn in the sea as adults but come into the shallow productive waters of the salt marsh to mature. Others, such as the fiddler crab, spawn in the marshes; then the young swim out to sea where they remain until nearly grown.

Many animals spend their entire lives in the marsh while others visit the marsh for food. There are few places on earth where plant and animal life are so varied, so abundant, so unusual, and so fascinating.

Probably the most spectacular feature of Hunting Island is its 19th-century lighthouse, which stands with three remaining original structures in the middle of the park.

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only lighthouse in South Carolina that is publicly accessible. From the top of one of the most distinctive lighthouses in South Carolina, guests can stand 130 feet above the ground to take in the breathtaking, panoramic view of the Atlantic Coast and surrounding maritime forest.

The lighthouse tower is open for climbing; hours vary seasonally. For an admission of $2, visitors can climb the 167 steps and walk around the observation deck for a lofty view of the barrier island and surrounding seascape.

The lighthouse was closed for repairs in May 2003 when cracks were discovered in several of its cast-iron steps. In a renovation that spanned more than 18 months, construction crews not only repaired the cracks, but installed steel braces beneath them for reinforcement. Left unpainted, the silver-gray braces stand out in sharp contrast to the black cast-iron stairs. The contrast helps distinguish between the original structure and modern improvements, which protect the lighthouse’s historic integrity.

The original structure was built in 1859 and rebuilt in 1875 after it was destroyed during the Civil War. A unique feature of the lighthouse is that it was constructed of interchangeable cast-iron sections so it could be dismantled should it ever need to be moved. Severe beach erosion made it necessary to relocate the lighthouse 1.3 miles inland in 1889.

RV and tent camping is available at the northern end of the park near the ocean. Each of the 200 sites has water and electrical hookups; 102 sites offer 20/30/50-amp electric service. Some sites accommodate RVs up to 40 feet; other up to 28 feet. In addition 10 trail sites with access to water are available for tent campers. Camping reservations are available. Complimentary Wi-Fi is now available in the campground. Dump stations are located at the exit of each campground area.

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To begin and end your day, be sure to catch the splendor of the sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean and the sunset over the salt marsh.

Although plenty of activities can keep you occupied, the true beauty of Hunting Island is its atmosphere—a blend of sights and sounds that almost forces you to relax, to escape the rush of today’s life, to forget that the interstate is less than 30 minutes away.

The park is open year-round, and in the off season its solitude and charm are even more pronounced.

Details

Hunting Island State Park

Admission: $5; children ages 6-15, $3

Lighthouse admission: $2

RV Camping: $17-38

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Address: 2555 Sea Island Parkway, Hunting Island, SC 29920

Phone: (843) 838-2011

Directions: If traveling north on I-95, take Exit 8 (SR-170); if you’re traveling south, take Exit 42 (US-21 south); both routes leads through Beaufort (state park is 16 miles east of Beaufort on US-21)

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

Read More

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

Read More

Balmorhea State Park: An Oasis in the Desert

Plopped in the middle of the prickly, dry Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park is an oasis in the desert.

San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And any time you have water in the desert it’s going to be a special place.

It’s a hot haul across I-10 from El Paso to San Antonio. Most RVers speed along in an air-conditioned hurry to the next big name destination. Little do they realize as they whiz past Exit 206 what they’re missing less than fifteen minutes off the freeway: 46 grassy acres with wetlands and towering cottonwoods that shade canals, an RV campground and motel-style retro lodging, and an immense enclosed spring-fed pool.

The pool is open daily. It is fed by San Solomon Springs; 22 to 28 million gallons of water flow through it each day. At 25 feet deep, and with a capacity of more than 3.5 million gallons, the pool has plenty of room for swimmers and offers a unique setting for scuba and skin diving.

The site has long attracted people: American Indians, Spanish explorers, Mexican farmers, and U.S. soldiers watered up here long before the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) turned a desert wetland into a spring-fed pool in the 1930s.

The CCC established a camp at the 1.75-acre swimming pool and built concession buildings and a park residence. They enclosed and sculpted the pool into a 200-foot circle over the spring and two long tangents (389 feet and 180 feet long) that form a “V.” At the end of one tangent, the depth is only three feet, making it an ideal area for swimmers and children. The entire area is lined with limestone and bordered with flagstone paving.

A 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over. Today visitors flock from around the state and far beyond to dip a toe or two or scuba dive into crystal-clear waters of the enormous V-shaped pool with a natural bottom. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and vehicles are turned away.

Native reeds and bulrushes sway in the San Solomon Cienega, a 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 to provide habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life.

Set amongst canals, San Solomon Springs Courts offer motel-style retro lodging built by the CCC in the 1930s with a Southwestern adobe look. There are 18 rooms and all are designated as non-smoking.

Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others.

To call Balmorhea State Park a popular dive site is an understatement. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, which is the park’s low season, each weekend as many as 10 different dive operations find the friendly waters of San Solomon Springs ideal for certifying divers from entry level (Open Water) to specialties such as Rescue, Photography, Videography, Naturalist, or Night. Each of them brings groups of 10 to 15 dive students.

Call it oasis or paradise; scuba divers call it fun!

One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Solomon Springs may be the only dive site that provides entertainment for the whole family.  One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it.

Details

Balmorhea State Park

Entrance Fee: $7/adult; children 12 years and under, free

Camping: 6 campsites with water, $11; 16 campsites with water and electric, $14; 12 campsites with water, electric, and cable TV, $17; all campsites + daily entrance fee

Elevation: 3,205 feet

Directions: From I-10 westbound, take Balmorhea Exit 206, FM 2903 south to Balmorhea, then Texas 17 east 4 miles to the Park; from I-10 eastbound, take Toyahvale/Ft. Davis Exit 192, Ranch Road 3078 east 12 miles to the park.

Address: P.O. Box 15, Toyahvale, TX 79786

Phone: (432) 375-2370

Website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/balmorhea

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

Read More

Death Valley National Park: Hottest, Driest, Lowest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know?

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

Details

Death Valley National Park

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

Size: 3,372,401.96 acres

Vehicle Entrance Fee: $20 for 7 Days

2013 Visitor Count: 951,972

Worth Pondering…

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

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

Read More

2015 Free Admission Days at National Parks

America’s Best Idea—the national parks—is even better when it’s free!

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

There are nine more reasons to enjoy national parks next year.

Circle the dates on the calendar and plan your trip—America’s 401 national parks will offer free admission on nine days in 2015, including several holidays.

The 2015 entrance fee-free days are:

January 19: Martin Luther King Jr. Day

February 14-16: Presidents Day weekend

April 18 & 19: National Park Week’s opening weekend

August 25: National Park Service’s 99th birthday

September 26: National Public Lands Day

November 11: Veterans Day

“Every day is a great day in a national park, and these entrance fee free days offer an extra incentive to visit one of these amazing places,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis.

“As we prepare to celebrate the National Park Service’s centennial in 2016, we are inviting all Americans to discover the beauty and history that lives in our national parks.”

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

A national park may be closer to home than you think. National Park Service sites are located in every state and in many major cities, including New York City which is home to ten national parks. They are places of recreation and inspiration and they are also powerful economic engines for local communities. Throughout the country, visitors to national parks spent $26.5 billion and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013.

Only 133 of our country’s 401 national parks usually charge an entrance fee.

If you’re planning a trip that includes multiple national parks, you might consider the $80 annual pass that provides entrance to all national parks, national wildlife refuges, national forests, and many other Federal lands-more than 2,000 in all. The America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass is offered free to all active duty military members and their dependents. Information on these and other pass options is available online.

Fee waiver includes entrance fees, commercial tour fees, and transportation entrance fees. Other fees such as reservation, camping, tours, concession, and fees collected by third parties are not included unless stated otherwise.

Generally, 133 of the 401 National Park Service have entrance fees that range from $3 to $25. While entrance fees will be waived for the fee free days, amenity and user fees for things such as camping, boat launches, transportation, or special tours will still be in effect.

Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Enormous cacti, silhouetted by the setting sun, for most of us the Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. And yet, these majestic plants are only found in a small portion of the United States. Saguaro National Park protects some of the most impressive forests of these sub-tropical giants, on the edge of the modern City of Tucson.© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Other Federal land management agencies that will offer their own fee-free days in 2015 are:  U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service. Please contact each for dates and details.

The National Park Service, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Reclamation, and the U.S. Forest Service also participate in the America the Beautiful National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Pass programs. These passes provide access to more than 2,000 national parks, forests, wildlife refuges, grasslands, and other federal lands. Four passes are available:

Free annual pass to current military members and their dependents

Free lifetime pass for U.S. citizens with permanent disabilities

$10 lifetime senior pass for U.S. citizens aged 62 and over

$80 annual pass for the general public

Details

National Park Service

A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A highlight for most visitors to Capitol Reef is the scenic drive from the visitors center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites in America’s 397 national parks.

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

Read More

Discover Hubbell Trading Post Where History Is Made Every Day

Little has changed in more than 135 years at the oldest continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Reservation.

discover this authentic Navajo trading post
Take some time to discover this authentic Navajo trading post and original 160 acre homestead. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site is equal parts museum, art gallery, and general store, a place where Native Americans come to sell or trade blankets, rugs, and jewelry for groceries, tools, and clothes.

The post, its thick stone walls protecting visitors from the blazing summers and frigid winters of the high desert, continues to lure buyers and sellers alike.

Many of today’s customers are the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those who traded with John Lorenzo Hubbell, who bought the trading post in 1878.

Hubbell, a 25-year-old clerk and trader, learned much about the Navajos as he traveled the Southwest. He began trading in 1876 and two years later purchased the small post and surrounding land from a man eager to move on.

He acted as a bridge between the Navajos and the rest of the world.

Hubbell had an enduring influence on Navajo rugweaving and silversmithing, for he consistently demanded and promoted excellence in craftsmanship.

The local populace soon embraced Hubbell thanks to his kindness, patience, and generosity. He translated and wrote letters, mediated quarrels and, during the smallpox epidemic in 1886, used his home as a makeshift hospital.

Feel the old wooden floor give slightly and squeak beneath your feet as you enter the oldest, continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Nation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Feel the old wooden floor give slightly and squeak beneath your feet as you enter the oldest, continuously operating trading post on the Navajo Nation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

His business benefited as a result, and Navajos came to socialize as much as to barter.

Hubbell built a trading empire that included stage and freight lines as well as several trading posts. At various times, he and his two sons, together or separately, owned 24 trading posts, a wholesale house in Winslow, and other business and ranch properties. Beyond question, he was the foremost Navajo trader of his time.

The Hubbell family continued to operate the trading post until 1967, when the National Park Service took over.

Much of the post looks just as it did in century-old photographs, giving visitors a sense of stepping through a portal in time.

The post’s front door opens into the bullpen, a high-ceilinged room where bartering took place. Shelves

High counters and long shelves once crowded with bread, milk, and tins of food, now hold blankets and baskets, clothing and kitchen utensils. jewelry and souvenirs, while harnesses and hardware hang from the wood beams that run the length of the ceiling.

Much of the post looks just as it did in century-old photographs, giving visitors a sense of stepping through a portal in time. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Much of the post looks just as it did in century-old photographs, giving visitors a sense of stepping through a portal in time. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A couple of side rooms hold Navajo rugs, cases of jewelry, paintings, kachinas, sculptures, and other works of art. There’s a good chance you’ll see customers negotiating trades.

Everyone notices the post’s creaky floorboards. Each step brings another groan of protest from the planks. But this isn’t the original floor. When the post was refurbished in the 1970s, contractors took great care to maintain the squeak, as it had become the post’s signature sound.

The trading post is the centerpiece of the 160-acre site. Visitors also can tour the Hubbell house; browse the visitor center (built in 1920 and used originally as a school); and see barns, corrals, wagons, and other historical farm equipment, as well as a variety farm animals, including Churro sheep and their prized wool.

The post hosts two art auctions each year. The next one will be Saturday, September 13. The auctions feature works from many tribes.

Details

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site

Operating Hours: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. daily

Time zone: Unlike Arizona the Navajo Nation observes daylight saving time

Admission: Trading Post, free; Hubbell Home tour, $2/person

Join a tour of the historic Hubbell home, the original home lived in by J. L. Hubbell and his family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Join a tour of the historic Hubbell home, the original home lived in by J. L. Hubbell and his family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elevation: 6,300 feet

Location: 1 mile west of Highway 191 in Ganado, on Highway 264

Camping: No camping facilities

Address: P.O. Box 150, Ganado, Arizona 86505

Phone: (928) 755-3475

Web site: www.nps.gov/hutr

Worth Pondering…

A journey is a person in itself; no two are alike.

—John Steinbeck, author

Read More