Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

To really explore a national wildlife refuge, of course, you’ll want to get out of your vehicle. But when time is limited or you want to get the lay of the land before you set out on a trail, a scenic drive should be considered.

For all us ‘let’s-check-it-out-first’ types, here’s a sampling of some super national wildlife refuge drives to whet your appetite for further exploration.

6. Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware

Stretching eight miles along Delaware Bay and covering 16,251 acres, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for wildlife. (Credit: USFWS)
Stretching eight miles along Delaware Bay and covering 16,251 acres, Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge provides habitat for wildlife. (Credit: USFWS)

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge protects one of the largest remaining expanses of tidal salt marsh in the mid-Atlantic region. The refuge, located along the coast of Delaware, is mostly marsh, but also includes freshwater impoundments and upland habitats that are managed for other wildlife.

A 12-mile wildlife drive cuts across man-made pools, salt marshes, mudflats, woodlands, and upland fields. Spring brings migrating waterfowl, wood warblers, and shorebirds. Summer draws herons, egrets, avocets, black-necked stilts, and terns. Fall and winter months provide resting and wintering grounds for Canada geese, snow geese, and a mix of waterfowl. Birds of prey are seen all year long.

The wildlife drive passes five short walking trails, three with 30-foot-high observation towers.

Wildlife to Observe: Snow geese, northern pintails, warblers, dunlins, dowitchers, avocets, black-necked stilts, yellow warblers, purple martins, red tailed hawks, and bald eagles.

Phone: (302) 653-9345

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Bombay_Hook

Friends of Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofbombayhook.org

7. Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Four short (less than 0.5 miles each) and two longer (1.5 – 4 miles) hiking trails are available adjacent to the wildlife drive or Refuge headquarters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Four short (less than 0.5 miles each) and two longer (1.5 – 4 miles) hiking trails are available adjacent to the wildlife drive or Refuge headquarters. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Straddling the Pecos River, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is a wetland oasis inhabited by a diversity of wildlife. Located where the Chihuahuan Desert meets the Southern Plains, Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge is one of the more biologically significant wetland areas of the Pecos River watershed system.

The eight-mile Wildlife Drive/Auto Tour Loop is one of the better ways to observe wildlife.

Four short trails and two longer hiking trails are available adjacent to the Refuge Headquarters and Wildlife Drive.

Organized by the Friends of the Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge, the 2013 Dragonfly Festival will take place on September 7.

Wildlife to Observe: Take advantage of the overlooks for great views of flocks of sandhill cranes and Ross’ and snow geese, or to spot the coyotes and red-tail hawks criss-crossing the wetlands. Drive slowly and watch for basking spiny softshell turtles, coachwhip snakes, and checkered whiptail lizards. More than 100 species of dragonflies and damselflies (Odonates) have been documented.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 622-6755

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Bitter_Lake

Friends of Bitter Lake National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofbitterlake.com

Dragonfly Festival: friendsofbitterlake.com/2013-dragonfly-festival

8. National Bison Range, Montana

The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. The current bison herd is maintained at approximately 350 animals. (Credit: USFWS)
The largest North American land mammal in existence, American bison were a key species of the Great Plains—their grazing habits helped establish the distribution of grasslands in the Plains. The current bison herd is maintained at approximately 350 animals. (Credit: USFWS)

Follow the one-way steep and winding 19-mile gravel road up Red Sleep Mountain for stunning grassland views with herds of bison, antelope, elk, big horn sheep, and deer. From the top, see the Mission Mountain range of the Rockies and enjoy panoramic views of Mission Valley. You can also access two short walks. In general, the Red Sleep Mountain Drive is open from mid-May to early October.

Due to the steepness of roads and tightness of switchbacks, no vehicles over 30 feet in length are allowed on Red Sleep Mountain Drive. They may access the shorter West Loop, Prairie Drive, and Winter Drive. No trailers of any kind may travel Red Sleep Mountain Drive.

Wildlife to Observe: Antelope, elk, mule deer, bison, mountain sheep, eagles.

Phone: (406) 644-2211

Website: fws.gov/refuge/national_bison_range

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 4 Part Series on National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Part 4: Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Worth Pondering…

A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

—Chinese Proverb

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Would You Leave Your Campfire Unattended?

Firefighters have discovered 23 illegal, abandoned, or escaped campfires burning on the Bitterroot National Forest in just the last seven days, according to a Bitterroot National Forest news release.

Bitterroot National Forest (Source: fs.usda.gov/bitterroot)
Bitterroot National Forest (Source: fs.usda.gov/bitterroot)

Two of the fires were discovered Sunday morning (August 11) off Skalkaho Highway near Gird Point Lookout and Railroad Creek (near the Idaho-Montana state line), east of Hamilton, Montana (40 miles south of Missoula).

Both fires had escaped their makeshift rings and if crews had not been close by, could have quickly and easily spread to nearby grass and trees.

The Forest Service is asking for the public’s help in stopping this growing problem. It’s a major concern as fire crews are spending their time responding to and putting out abandoned campfires, which could delay responses to new wildfires that start.

More than half of the abandoned campfires were discovered outside designated/approved campgrounds, where fires are currently prohibited under Stage 1 Restrictions.

Fire Restrictions

Stage 1 fire restrictions went into effect August 1 on the Bitterroot National Forest. Campfires are allowed only within a designated campground or recreation site which contains a Forest-provided fire ring.

For a list of all designated campgrounds and recreation sites, visit the Forest website (SEE link below)

Individuals who violate these restrictions could face fines of up to $5,000 and be held liable for all suppression costs and damages for starting a fire.

Forest Service map shows active wildfires in the U.S. The Elk Complex and Pony fires in Idaho are represented by Nos. 24 and 26, respectively. (Source: fs.usda.gov)
Forest Service map shows active wildfires in the U.S. The Elk Complex and Pony fires in Idaho are represented by Nos. 24 and 26, respectively. (Source: fs.usda.gov)

Current Fire Danger

The Bitterroot National Forest fire danger is currently very high.

Forest officials are asking the public to be extremely careful when camping and to remember that it’s your job and responsibility to properly maintain and extinguish all campfires.

Smoke & Haze

The smoke and haze that drifted into the Bitterroot Valley overnight is coming from the Pony Complex and Elk fires burning in Idaho.

Combined, the two fires have grown to nearly 200,000 acres

Details

Bitterroot National Forest

The 1.6 million acre Bitterroot National Forest, in west central Montana and east central Idaho, is part of the Northern Rocky Mountains.

Elevation ranges from 3,200 feet at the north end of the Bitterroot Valley to Trapper Peak at 10,157 feet in the mountains on the south. In the Idaho portion of the Forest, elevations drop to about 2,600 feet along the Selway River and 2,200 feet on the Salmon River.

Half of the forest is dedicated to the largest expanse of continuous pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states—the Selway Bitterroot, Frank Church River of No Return, and the Anaconda Pintler.

Much of its beauty can be attributed to the heavily glaciated, rugged peaks of the Bitterroot Range. Drainages carved by glaciers form steep canyons that open into the valley floor. The abundance of natural resources offers a wide range of opportunities for recreation, grazing, wildlife, fisheries, timber, and minerals.

Bitterroot National Forest (Source: fs.usda.gov/bitterroot)
Bitterroot National Forest (Source: fs.usda.gov/bitterroot)

Enjoy the magnificent mountains, the serenity of wilderness, miracle of spring flowers, majestic big game, and sounds of birds.

Summer is a great time to visit the Bitterroot National Forest.

Recreation opportunities abound here including camping at 24 developed campgrounds and five group sites, hiking on more than 1,600 miles of trails, fishing for brook and rainbow trout in crystal-clear Alpine lakes, boating, biking, horseback riding, and more.

The Forest is home to many species of wildlife including deer, elk, bighorn sheep, mountain goats, and moose, plus many varieties of smaller animals and birds.

Bitterroot National Forest Supervisor’s Office Address: 1801 North 1st, Hamilton, MT  59840

Phone: (406) 363-7100

Website: fs.usda.gov/bitterroot

Worth Pondering…

A beautiful flower, a beautiful river, a valley, a magnificent range—such is the Bitter Root.

—Wheeler, 1898

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Iowa Widens RV Tax Grab

Owning a recreational vehicle is getting more expensive in Iowa.

tax grab imagesIt’s not that the price to buy a home-on-wheels is going up, but that the state is getting tougher on collecting registration fees.

State legislators tell RVers that since you’re rich, you can pay more. It’s time RVers paid their fair share!

In an earlier story I reported that the Iowa Senate approved a bill intended to prevent tax evaders (their words, not mine) from using out-of-state shell corporations to avoid paying registration fees on million-dollar recreational vehicles and other luxury vehicles.

In a later development this new rule affecting all current and future RVers was inserted in a catch-all bill approved by Iowa legislators.

As reported by The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette, the state has already recovered about $1 million in unpaid tax and registration fees and a law change that went into effect July 1 is expected to channel more revenue into the underfunded state Road Use Tax Fund.

“It’s well worth our time and effort,” Maj. Paul Steier of the Iowa Department of Transportation motor vehicle enforcement unit, said.

Okay, I think I finally get it! It’s a game to wring more and more out of the already overtaxed population. Tax grabs are simply a band aid solution to a larger problem. Could it be possible that the state has a spending problem?

nelson_haha2The DOT and Iowa Department of Revenue are going after Iowans who have established limited liability corporations in Montana to register their RVs there to avoid paying the 5 percent Iowa registration fee on vehicles and annual registration fees.

Montana does not charge sales tax, so it’s become a haven for RVers from numerous states who want to avoid this and other over reaching tax grabs.

We’re talking $5,000 on a $100,000 RV—and that may well be the tipping point for the already overburdened tax payer.

However, that’s a fraction of the penalty if an RV owner is caught registering the motorhome in Montana to avoid the Iowa fees. Steier said the Department of Revenue can slap them with a penalty equal to 75 percent of the purchase price.

John Barnes at the Montana Department of Justice doesn’t know how many Iowa vehicles are registered there because all the information he sees shows Montana addresses. Although Iowa may consider it illegal to register RVs there, Montana considers “it is lawful to establish an LLC for the sole purpose of titling and registering vehicles here.”

However, there are barriers to Iowans setting up sham LLCs to avoid registration fees, said Jeff Engelbart, co-owners and vice president of Lasso E RV Sales at Anamosa.

“I talk to (my customers) about the ramifications of licensing out of state. I just explain that the registration fee is to take care of roads and highways. It’s not like it’s disappearing into the general fund.”

Now try telling that to RVers who bump along I-80 as they across the state.

Iowa is not alone in cracking down on RV fee avoidance (I call it avoiding a tax grab).

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports California and Massachusetts have passed legislation to prevent citizens from taking advantage of Montana’s vehicle registration laws.

Since the mid-2000s, Iowa investigators have been working on their own as well as with colleagues from other states to catch folks trying to avoid the registrations fees, Steier said.

Sometimes it’s as easy as walking around the parking lot at a college football game to check on RVs with Montana license plates. Sometimes it is more difficult.

Once investigators uncover the owner’s true address and build a case, the information is forwarded to the Department of Revenue to collect the fees and penalties.

Old manSteier agrees with Engelbart that most Iowans want to do the right thing (i.e., pay more taxes). He also noted that toward the end of June — just before the new law went into effect, county treasurers reported RV owners coming in to ask about the change and how to be in compliance.

“Word has gotten out,” Steier said. “Hopefully, as time goes on, (we’ll) see fewer of those Montana plates.”

Apparently in Steier’s world it matters little that seniors have worked for upwards of 35 years contributing to the state economy and paying taxes and scrimping and saving in order to enjoy their senior years in the RV of their choice.

Worth Pondering…

In my many years I have come to a conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.
—John Adams

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Oilfield Workers Buy Up Bakken Tough Trailers

Camps for Bakken oilfield workers in North Dakota and Montana are dotted with fifth wheel trailers shielded with foam-board insulation and skirting and whatever else workers can muster to keep water pipes and waste tanks from freezing and to lower heating costs.

Dustin Bretz is shown with a super-insulated 34-foot work crew housing unit at Tour America RV Center. Many of the dealership’s RVs are headed to the Bakken oil field where the boom in jobs has created a severe housing shortage. (Source: Larry Mayer/Billings Gazette)

When Bakken oilfield workers come calling Dustin Bretz, salesman at Tour America RV Center in Billings, Montana, knows standard RVs aren’t going to cut it.

There’s camping rough and then there’s Bakken rough, living full time through the winter on the frozen prairie of North Dakota and Montana, where more than a few days of arctic weather are normal, Bretz told The Billings Gazette.

“Winter time can run as cold as 30 below zero, and a lot of RVs aren’t made for that.”

So Tour America started looking for one that could handle these harsh winter conditions and came up with a Camp Lodge, Work and Play fifth wheel custom built for the Bakken environment.

“These go relatively quickly,” Bretz said.

“It has 2 to 3 inches of spray foam on the lower chasse, heated water lines, and holding tanks. They have dual-pane windows, like your house. This is a niche product.”

In this July, 2011 photo, a man walks back to his temporary housing unit in a man camp outside of Williston, N.D. Many oilfield workers say sharing an RV beats living in a man camp any day. And, some of the oilfield work is done far from the nearest man camp, making super-insulated RVs or other manufactured housing a preferred choice. (Source: AP)

Bretz has the rugged trailers, which retail for about $34,000, parked north of his main lot in full view of eastbound Interstate 90, where semis loaded with drilling equipment and bentonite are streaming to the oil patch. His show-pony RVs are in Tour America’s corral, not so easily spotted from the freeway.

Housing of all kinds is scarce in the Bakken oilfield, where high-paying jobs have lured thousands of transient workers. Real homes are hard to come by, but so are campers and trailers. The running joke is that the oilfield holds the record for homeless people with $100,000 incomes. At a western North Dakota housing summit last spring, developers identified the need for 5,000 homes over the next two years.

That insatiable demand for housing of all kinds has become good business for Billings companies with products ready to sell. Pierce Homes now markets a modular model named for the Bakken and built by Commodore Homes. At Canadian-American Structured Solutions Inc. (CASS), the demand for oilfield housing drives a significant portion of the recently created company’s business.

“I would say the fallout from the Williston area is 25 percent of our business,” said Larry Nelson, CASS investor and CFO.

CASS, which set up shop in Billings only a few months ago, shipped a four-plex to Powers Lake, North Dakota, and created duplexes bound for Regina, Saskatchewan. The company has an apartment house building in Glendive and multiple accounts from Baker to Williston.

CASS builds its products to suit the building codes for permanent structures in whatever community to which its buildings are headed.

Bakken Reservoir fields in Williston Basin

Even businesses that don’t normally target the Bakken market are picking up customers, reports The Billings Gazette.

“We say we don’t sell single-wides, but we sell a bunch of these little cabins that are right around the $60,000 mark, the cost of a nice, fifth-wheel trailer,” said Jeff Lee, of American Homes.

Lee said American Homes in Billings has sold six of the 560-square-foot cabins since August. Not all of the buildings were Bakken bound, but he expects more will be sold into the oilfield in the future.

American sells a hunting cabin that’s a super-super insulated single-wide modular home with 6-inch walls and homelike features.

“This really is just a souped up single wide, but it has a good look and feel, laminate floors, residential doors and windows and furnaces.”

Lee said American Homes in Billings has sold six of the 560-square-foot cabins since August.

Worth Pondering…

I played as much golf as I could in North Dakota, but summer up there is pretty short.  It usually falls on Tuesday.

—Mike Morley

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Top 10 Scenic Drives in the Northern Rockies

If you are looking for an exciting vacation with beautiful views then consider exploring Forest Service lands in the Northern Rockies for beautiful landscapes, scenic byways, historic trails, and diverse wildlife.

For sheer beauty and allure, few regions match the Northern Rockies. Discover a convenient new way to research and plan absolutely incredible Rocky Mountain travel adventures—the Top 10 Scenic Drives in the Northern Rockies.

Beartooth All-American Road

The Beartooth Scenic Road has 10,000 mountain lakes, 20 peaks reaching more than 12,000 feet in elevation, and 12 national forest campgrounds. Witness the rare transition of lush forest ecosystem to alpine tundra in just a few miles on the highest elevation road in the Northern Rockies.

International Selkirk Loop All­-American Road

The public lands along the loop are home to the largest diversity of wildlife in the lower 48 states. Travel the Selkirk Range of the British Columbia, Idaho, and Washington Rocky Mountains to see stunning vistas, wildlife, year-round recreation, and colorful small towns.

Montana Scenic Loop

Holland Lake sits at the base of the Swan Mountains about 25 miles north of Seeley Lake, Mont., just minutes off the route of the Montana Scenic Loop. (Source: usda.gov)

At the heart of the 400-mile Montana Scenic Loop is the Bob Marshall Wilderness—flanked by the Great Bear Wilderness on the north and the Scapegoat Wilderness to the south. Enjoy striking vistas of awe-inspiring mountains, placid trout streams and abundant wildlife as they unfold along the Rocky Mountain Front, Glacier National Park, and the Flathead and Blackfoot River Basins.

Northwest Passage Scenic Byway All-American Road

Travel along U.S. Highway 12 along the Middle Fork of the Clearwater River and the Lochsa Wild and Scenic River—through the magnificent Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forests culminating at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center. Explore the Idaho Rockies, including the land of the Nez Perce Indians, and trace the Lewis & Clark Expedition route across the Bitterroot Mountains and along the Wild and Scenic Clearwater and Lochsa rivers.

Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park Loop

The area is defined largely by the wide-ranging wildlife that inhabit the region, including grizzly bears, wolverines, wolves, and bull trout. Trace this stunning route through the Montana Rockies, featuring breathtaking scenery and Glacier National Park’s popular Going-to-the-Sun Road.

Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail

With eight national forests along this route in Montana and Idaho, visitors can experience a number of landmarks and attractions while tracing the same path over mountains and along rivers that the Lewis and Clark Expedition took on their way to the Pacific coast.

Nez Perce National Historic Trail

Drive the route of the Nez Perce National Historic Trail in the fall to come across this picturesque scene. (Source: usda.gov)

The journey of the Nez Perce from their homelands is one of the most fascinating and sorrowful events in U.S. history. Learn the story of the Nez Perce by following in the footsteps of the 1,170-mile flight through Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana.

Details

Drive the Top 10

This website will help you learn about the region’s four All-American Roads, 19 national parks, and the scenic byways and historic trails connecting them.

Retrace the rugged path of Lewis & Clark through Montana, Idaho, and Washington. Tour the hot springs of the Kootenay Rockies. Navigate the prehistoric depths of Hells Canyon—North America’s deepest canyon. Or witness an awe-inspiring Old Faithful eruption, a timeless tradition at Yellowstone National Park.

Explore the countless natural wonders, historical sites, and cultural sites that make the Northern Rockies so legendary and inspiring.

Website: drivethetop10.com

Worth Pondering…

As long as I live, I’ll hear waterfalls and birds and winds sing. I’ll interpret the rocks, learn the language of flood, storm, and the avalanche. I’ll acquaint myself with the glaciers and wild gardens, and get as near the heart of the world as I can.
— John Muir

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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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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.

Continue reading →

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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Five Things You Need to Know Today: January 6

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. First RV Caravan into Mexico Reports No Problems

Let's Go RVing to the Rio Grande Valley, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The wagonmaster for the first RV caravan into Mexico this winter said there were no problems during the 25-day trip, according to a Caravanas de Mexico RV Tours news release.

“Everything went very well in our Colonial Mexico Caravane Soleil which began on November 12 and ended on Decemver 8,” said Serge Loriaux, director general of Caravanes Soleil. “We traveled more than 2,400 kilometers of roads surprisingly beautiful all along our route.”

The first caravan visited Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Dolores Hidalgo, Santuario de Atotonilco, Queretaro, Tequisquiapan, Bernal, Patzcuaro, Santa Clara del Cobre, Tzintzuntzan, Uruapan, Isla Janitzio, Morelia, Villa Corona, Guadalajara, Manzanillo, Barra de Navidad, Melaque and ended up in Puerto Vallarta.

2. 16 Whooping Cranes Released in Louisiana

State wildlife officials have released 16 juvenile whooping cranes into the wild, the Associated Press reports.

The birds were delivered to the state on December 1 and were released last week in the White Lake Wetlands Conservation Area in Gueydan (GAY’ dawn), according to a statement from the state Wildlife and Fisheries Department.

The cranes had been flown to the site in Vermilion Parish from a U.S. Geological Survey wildlife research center in Laurel, Maryland.

To read an earlier report on the arrival of the cranes in Louisiana, click here.

3. Nebraska Online RV Scam Revealed

Let's Go RVing to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Online ads for expensive recreational vehicles and campers at bargain prices in Nebraska appear suspicious, according to a report by WOWT, Omaha.

A website posted photos and provided an address in Grand Island, Nebraska. But a Google map search and Grand Island police indicate there is only a vacant lot at the address listed on the website.

A California woman believed there was a dealership and that her $20,000 down payment would lead to purchase of a motorhome. “On the website there were pictures of RVs with a sign in the background so absolutely I thought there was a big lot there,” she said.

Nebraska State Patrol Auto Fraud investigator Gene True said he couldn’t find any state license for Grand Island Truck and RV center. He said three buyers have filed reports that campers or motorhomes they purchased had not been delivered. True said one man drove to Grand Island from Oregon only to discover the dealership was not at the address on the website.

True said the victims have reported losses totaling almost $60,000, adding, “I’ve never heard of anybody getting their money back.”

4. California State Park Managers Want New Director

California state park managers said they have lost confidence in their director and urged Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint a replacement.

The 125-member California State Parks Peace Officer Management Association sent a letter to the governor’s office expressing disapproval of Ruth Coleman, who has been serving as state parks director for nearly a decade, the Associated Press reports.

Scott Elliott, president of the association, said there is frustration over how Coleman has handled budget cuts. A survey of the association’s members found that 93 percent have no confidence in their leader and want a new director, he said.

“Director Coleman is an honorable person, but she has been largely absent in making sense of the new economic realities,” the letter said. “We understand that there is some discussion within the administration regarding the director’s appointment process. Consequently, we wanted you to know our position.”

5. Montana State Park Reservations Online

Let's Go RVing to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana State Parks announced that the public can book campsite reservations for 2012 online at stateparks.mt.gov or by phone at 1-855-922-6768 for the summer season. The summer reservation season runs from the Friday before Memorial Day through Labor Day. The reservation window allows campers to plan their camping visit up to nine months in advance.

Montana State Parks reservation campsites include Bannack, Beavertail Hill, Big Arm, Black Sandy, Brush Lake, Cooney, Finley Point, Hell Creek, Lake Mary Ronan, Lewis and Clark Caverns, Logan, Makoshika, Missouri Headwaters, Placid Lake, Salmon Lake, Thompson Falls, Tongue River, Wayfarers, West Shore, and Whitefish Lake.

Basic campsite costs are $15 per night for residents and $23 per night for non-residents during the peak spring/summer season. The fee to reserve a campsite online or by phone is $10.

Each park holds back approximately 25 percent of its campsites outside of the reservation program, for first-come, first-served camping visits.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

Home Too

—On the front of a motorhome

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Happy Holidays from the National Park Service

The National Park Service is rolling out videos carrying holiday greetings from national parks across the country. The videos feature rangers from Joshua Tree National Park in California to Arches National Park in Utah to Shenandoah National Park in Virginia.

The Joshua Tree is just one of hundreds of plants native to this national park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every day through December 31, one of the videos will be featured on the National Park Service’s YouTube channel and announced via Facebook and Twitter, according to a recent news release.

“We welcome more than 280 million visitors to their national parks every year,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis. “The videos are a great way to send our best wishes for the holidays to those folks who spent time in a national park this year or may be thinking about a trip in the future. Our rangers are a creative bunch, and their greetings reflect the spirit of the parks they care for on behalf of the American people. I hope people enjoy them.”

A handful of these videos were shared with more than 20,000 people assembled on the Ellipse in Washington, DC, on December 1 for the National Christmas Tree Lighting in cooperation with the National Park Foundation.

The schedule:

December 13 – Yosemite National Park, California
December 14 – Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (video #1
December 15 – Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi
December 16 – Biscayne National Park, Florida (video #1)

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

December 17 – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (American Sign Language)
December 18 – Glacier National Park, Montana
December 19 – Big Cypress National Preserve, Florida
December 20 – Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Georgia
December 21 – Everglades National Park, Florida
December 22 – Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona (Spanish)
December 23 – Biscayne National Park, Florida (video #2)
December 24 – Arches National Park, Utah
December 25 – San Juan National Historic Site, Puerto Rico
December 26 – Virgin Islands National Park, Virgin Islands
December 27 – Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
December 28 – Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park, Georgia
December 29 – Biscayne National Park, Florida (video #3)
December 30 – Denali National Park and Preserve, Alaska (video #2)
December 31 – Andrew Johnson National Historic Site, Tennessee

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National Park Service

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean¬ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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: nps.gov

National Park Service’s YouTube channel

Website: youtube.com

National Park Service Facebook

Website: facebook.com

National Park Service Twitter

Website: twitter.com

National Park Foundation

The National Park Foundation is the national charitable partner of the National Park Service.

Website: nationalparks.org

Worth Pondering…

The nation behaves well when it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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2011 National Park Holiday Celebrations

‘Tis the season! From Alaska to Georgia, there are countless holiday activities to enjoy in America’s national parks.

The National Park Foundation and National Park Service kicks-off the holiday season in Washington, D.C.’s President’s Park with the National Christmas Tree Lighting. This annual event can be seen LIVE December 1, beginning with the pre-show at 4:30 pm ET.

In addition to this 89 year-old tradition, the National Park Foundation reveals some of not-to-be-missed holiday festivities for national park visitors around the country this holiday season:

Alaska – Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

December 2, 2011: Join in the holiday cheer with performances by local talent, sing along carols, stories, poems, and refreshments at the Yuletide Christmas Concert in the National Park Service Auditorium.

Colorado – Bent’s Old Fort National Historic Site

December 2-3: Witness the joys, pleasures, and pastimes of the 1840s at an isolated trading post with candlelight tours of the fort.

Georgia – Fort Pulaski National Monument

November 27: Fort Pulaski will commemorate the 149th anniversary of the Grand Thanksgiving Fete and Festival of 1862 by recreating the 48th New York Infantry first Thanksgiving in the fort with activities for all ages including foot, sack and wheelbarrow races, demonstrations, and a Civil War garb burlesque parade.

Indiana – Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

December 10: Visitors can take part in Holiday Traditions in the Dunes including activities in four different park locations, tree decorating, and a live performance from Nordic Kids.

Iowa – Herbert Hoover National Historic Site

December 2-4: The birthplace of Herbert Hoover, the 31st President of the United States, will host A Christmas Past.

Louisiana – Cane River Creole National Historical Park

December 10: Stop by the Magnolia Plantation Overseer’s house for Christmas crafts and live music by the LaCour Trio. The entire plantation complex will be open for self guided tours.

Missouri – Jefferson National Expansion Memorial

December 3, 10, 17: Enjoy the 2011 Historic Holiday Traditions Weekend Series. The Historical Old Courthouse will feature music and activities that will take place in the rotunda, which will be adorned beautifully with Victorian decorations. Complimentary cookies and juice will be served during all weekend events.

Montana – Grant-Kohrs Ranch National Historic Site

December 4: Explore the elegant Kohrs’ family ranch house. It will be decorated to reflect a Victorian Christmas.

Nebraska – Homestead National Monument of America

November 25-December 31: The Winter Festival of Prairie Cultures celebrates the winter traditions of people who lived on the Great Plains during the homesteading era.

New Mexico – Petroglyph National Monument

November 26: Visitors can celebrate the beginning of the 2011 winter season at a Holiday Open House in the Visitor Center. Light holiday refreshments will also be served. A traditional horno oven Pueblo Indian bread baking demonstration will take place.

Let's Go RVing to Petroglyph National Monument. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

New York – Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site

November 25-December 21: Visit the Vanderbilt Mansion to view the holiday decorations; or kick off the holiday season at the special Holiday Open House on December 4.

Ohio – Cuyahoga Valley National Park

November 17-December 20: Journey to the North Pole on The Polar Express Children’s Holiday Train. Enjoy hearing a reading of The Polar Express en route to the North Pole. Passengers are encouraged to wear their pajamas. Cookies and hot chocolate are served.

Pennsylvania – Steamtown National Historic Site

November 23, 24, December 1: Join in the merriment and festivities aboard the steam-powered Holiday Express rides to Moscow, Pennsylvania. Enjoy holiday songs, stories, and other fun activities for the children at both the former passenger station and freight depots.

Utah – Golden Spoke National Historic Site

Let's Go RVing to Vanderbilt National Historic Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

December 28–30: Visitors can take part in the annual Winter Steam Festival and watch one of their locomotives in action at the same spot where the transcontinental railroad was completed over 142 years ago.

Washington – Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Friday evenings through mid-December: Visitors take park in a guided lantern tour through the Fur Store, the Counting House, and Bake House. You will learn what activities would have occurred once the sun set at Fort Vancouver

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National Parks Service

84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites are protected in America’s nearly 400 national parks.

Website: nps.gov

National Park Foundation

The National Park Foundation is the national charitable partner of the National Park Service.

Website: nationalparks.org

Worth Pondering…

We didn’t inherit the earth; we are borrowing it from our children.

—Native American Proverb

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Great National Parks for Fall Foliage

With the autumn season in full swing, the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, announced the 2011 “Great National Parks for Fall Foliage” list. This year’s list includes some iconic parks and a few lesser-known treasures.

Let's Go RVing to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each national park location, however, offers unique ways in which visitors can view the colorful foliage. Whether by water, foot, bicycle, car, or recreational vehicle, these dramatic colors of the season are not to be missed.

Many factors impact the timing of peak fall colors viewing; therefore, foliage seekers are encouraged to contact specific parks for the inside scoop on their unique foliage timing.

This year’s list, and the optimal times for foliage viewing, includes:

California: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Peak colors expected middle to end of October. On October 18, a hiking event to Whiskeytown Falls offers a perfect way to view the foliage during the peak season.

Colorado: Curecanti National Recreational Area

Peak colors begin in late September and continue through the end of October.

Mississippi: Natchez Trace Parkway

In middle to late October, the maple, hickory, oak, and other hardwood trees begin to change colors.

Let's Go RVing to Zion National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana: Glacier National Park

The bright yellow and gold colors on the aspen and larch trees run through mid-October covering the trails around the park, but particularly along Summit Trail.

Pennsylvania: Flight 93 National Memorial

The trees across the Flight 93 National Memorial begin to turn around mid-October. Check out honorflight93.org/webcam to find instant inspiration for a trip to the site or to take a virtual fall foliage tour.

Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains boast over 130 different tree species, many of which produce breathtaking autumnal colors. Peak foliage viewing depends greatly on the various levels of elevation found within the park, but overall, the Smoky’s foliage show runs from late September through October.

Utah: Zion National Park

Peak foliage colors appear at the end of October and into November.

Virginia: Shenandoah National Park

Peak colors in the upper elevations begin early to mid-October with lower elevations peaking at the end of October into November.

Vermont: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Rich with sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, this site boasts outstanding fall foliage each year. This year’s prime viewing is expected from mid-October through early November.

Let's Go RVing to Shenendoah National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wisconsin: Apostles Islands National Lakeshore

Peak foliage viewing varies depending on inland or coastal location; however, the foliage show runs from late September through October. Also, many bird species migrate through the park providing foliage seekers with an extra show from Mother Nature.

Details

National Park Foundation

You are the owner of 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites—all protected in America’s national parks. Chartered by Congress, the National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks.

Website: nationalparks.org

National Park Service

The National Park Service website contains contact information and special event listings for all 395 national park units.

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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