Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

Standing amid a jumble of basalt boulders, I paused after pulling myself up a steep climb of coffee-colored rock.

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

We’re hiking appropriately named Boca Negra Canyon of the Petroglyph National Monument in Albuquerque, and so far the rock art hasn’t exactly been jumping out at me. But as I pause to rest and finally consider the beauty of the canyon, petroglyphs begin to emerge before me.

Round faces, turtles and birds, brands and crosses, and lightning bolt-like patterns appear plain as day where I was looking on the fly just moments before. Sometimes you cover more ground and observe more beauty when standing still.

These images are inseparable from the greater cultural landscape, from the spirits of the people who created them, and from all who appreciate them today.

While it may be tempting to reach out your hand, don’t touch! Oils from your skin can permanently damage the petroglyphs.

Jointly managed by the National Park Service and the City of Albuquerque, Petroglyph National Monument comprises 7,236 acres of a volcanic basalt escarpment created by ancient lava flows along 17 miles of Albuquerque’s west escarpment, known as the West Mesa. The monument protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved into these dark rock outcroppings.

Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Visitors to this monument can travel 12 centuries into the past, turn around, and snap back into the present—because Albuquerque is right next door. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 150,000 year ago lava seeped from an enormous fissure here, covering the landscape like a prehistoric parking lot. Over time, cooling and erosion cracked the hardened lava. In many areas the ripples of once-hot lava can be seen in rock fragments.

By pecking the flat basalt, ancient artists found they could chisel away the dark desert varnish that had coated the rock and expose lighter rock beneath, creating a contrast that is still striking today. Basalt has a high iron content, and the rocks’ dark interior is basically rust. Creating a petroglyph was no small undertaking, as it took considerable time to etch the rock.

The National Park Service Las Imagenes Visitor Center and book store is located off Unser Boulevard at Western Trail. We began our visit here with a brief orientation to the monument and checked the schedule for ranger guided tours and special events before lacing up our hiking boots and hitting the trail at Boca Negra Canyon, a 70-acre section of the monument. Each trail offers a diverse view of the cultural and natural landscape within the monument.

Located two miles north of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Boca Negra Canyon provides quick and easy access to three partly paved self-guiding trails where you can view 200 petroglyphs.

This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
This volcanic basalt escarpment is home to a dense concentration of petroglyphs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is the most popular section of the monument, and is the only fully-developed area with restroom facilities, shade, and a drinking fountain. A nominal parking fee is charged by the City of Albuquerque.

Mostly, the national monument’s expanse of open space is undeveloped save for interpretative signs and facilities along the few developed trails at Boca Negra Canyon, Rinconada Canyon, and the volcano’s trails. Otherwise, silence and isolation are yours just minutes from New Mexico’s largest city.

Located one mile south of the visitor center on Unser Boulevard, Rinconada Canyon is one of the few places, where at the end of the trail you can be out of sight of the city.

A 2½-mile round-trip sandy trail follows the base of the escarpment where you can view more than 800 petroglyphs. This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

The northernmost area of the monument, Piedras Marcadas Canyon, means “canyon of marked rocks”. Piedras Marcadas is home to the densest concentration of petroglyphs along the monument’s 17-mile escarpment, with an estimated 5,000 images. This area may be entered from a small parking lot west of Golf Course Road.

Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Ancient artists chipped away this colorful dark layer to expose the lighter rock underneath, leaving behind images of animals and people, brands, crosses, and handprints. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This trail area has no water, so bring your own. You are advised to stop at the visitor center for an orientation and map before hiking this trail.

Worth Pondering…

Each of these rocks is alive, keeper of a message left by the ancestors…There are spirits, guardians; there is medicine…

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

Read More

A Walking Tour of Santa Fe: The City Different

To know the history of Santa Fe is to enhance your visit—the City Different is a confluence of its storied past and vibrant present.

A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A block from the Santa Fe Plaza is the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral with a sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we provided an historical perspective on Santa Fe, the City Different.

The center of it all, the Santa Fe Plaza. One glance tells you what sets this city apart—adobe architecture hose soft, rounded corners soothe the eye.

Want to orient yourself quickly? Take a trolley or walking tour with a professional guide. Or set out on your own. But remember to pace yourself. You’re at 7,000 feet here, so drink plenty of water.

Come with us as we take a short walk to see just where the fascination and enchantment began.

On the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors was laid out at the same time as the plaza. A fortified building, it served as residence, offices, workshops, and storerooms for the representative of the Spanish king; thus, they were called “royal houses.”

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Stephen Kearney stayed within these walls when he arrived with troops to claim the territory of New Mexico for the United States. The 54-inch-thick adobe walls, at that time still covered by a sod roof, furnished the quiet needed by Territorial Governor Lew Wallace to finish his novel Ben Hur.

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional  Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves.

Just west of here, by the golden clock, is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. A short stroll west takes you to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

Head east on Palace Street and duck into Sena Plaza, a hidden placita—or courtyard—just one block from the city’s plaza and just across the street from the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral. Note the sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint.

Just west of the Palace of Governors by the golden clock is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just west of the Palace of Governors by the golden clock is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll on San Francisco Street to the graceful facade of La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe’s most historic and authentic hotel and restaurant experience. This historic, landmark hotel sits quite literally at the terminus of the Old Santa Fe Trail. This charming, landmark hotel has delighted travelers since the early 1920s when the original hotel was built on the oldest hotel corner in America. Indeed, early records show a fonda, or inn, on the historic corner of San Francisco and Water Streets since the founding of Santa Fe in 1607.

La Fonda is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. Very few hotels have such roots that go back to the 17th century! Indeed, it was also the site of one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s many marriages—this time to Conrad Hilton in 1942.

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

The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you continue you’ll discover shops and open air vendors all along your stroll, with merchandise from exquisitely tooled leather boots to replicas of Kachina dolls, from Navajo blankets to ristras—festively strung wreaths of red chilis.

For the last leg of this walk, head south on Old Santa Fe Trail to the Loretto Chapel, completed in 1878. What draws the visitor is the spiral staircase inside that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

Afterwards, continue south on the Old Santa Fe Trail to East De Vargas Street and San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in America, the key site to the Barrio de Analco Historic District. Oral history holds that San Miguel Chapel was built around 1610, and it has been rebuilt and restored several times over the past 400 years.

As you continue east De Vargas Street becomes Canyon Road, once a meandering Native American trail to Pecos Pueblo. Nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road is a magical half-mile of over a hundred galleries, artist studios, clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and gourmet restaurants.

Aptly named Museum Hill, two and a half miles south of the city’s plaza, is a day onto itself. Museum Hill offers a central destination for exploring some of the city’s finest museums and some of the world’s greatest collections of Native American art and artifacts. The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Museum of International Folk Art are the major institutions located on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill.

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Read More

Santa Fe: The City Different

There is no place like Santa Fe.

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional  Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ve never seen anything like this before. 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 most exotic place you can visit without crossing an ocean. The secret is in its history, the blending of three cultures—Pueblo Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo.

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 Pueblo Indian, 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.

A short stroll west of the Santa Fe Plaza takes you to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A short stroll west of the Santa Fe Plaza takes you to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of Santa Fe is a long and rich one. Occupied for many centuries by Pueblo Indians, the Spanish conquistador Coronado claimed this land for Spain in 1540. Recaptured by the Pueblo Indians for over a century, the Spanish again took over the region in 1692 and Santa Fe developed and grew. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in the mid 1800s and with the advent of the Santa Fe Trail, American traders, trappers, and pioneers began to settle in the area.

In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado charged north from Mexico with 300 soldiers in search of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. What he found was Zuni Pueblo, which he promptly conquered. Thus began some 200 years of alternating strife and precarious calm between the two cultures, a time marked by repeated Pueblo revolts that drove the Spanish from the area only to see them return with more soldiers and repressive measures. By the mid 1700s there existed a greater respect between the two peoples. Catholic and native religions existed side by side and the Spaniards and Pueblo people fought together against the encroaching French and Pawnees.

The center of it all is the Santa Fe Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The center of it all is the Santa Fe Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Spanish brought irrigation in the form of acequias—canals that still functions today—farms, cattle, sheep, and orchards. They practiced silver and goldsmithing, woodworking and weaving—crafts carried on today by their descendants. And in 1610, a decade before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they laid out the Santa Fe Plaza and began building the Palace of Governors. Today this is the oldest continuously occupied building in the US.

In 1821, the year that Mexico celebrated its independence from Spain, American trader William Becknell drove a wagon laden with goods into Santa Fe, making it the western terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Americans traders and settlers soon entered the area. One of the most famous was Kit Carson who for 42 years called Taos his home.

The US was eying the territory for western expansion and in 1846, President James K. Polk declared war on Mexico. All of New Mexico was vanquished—bloodlessly—by 1,600 soldiers under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearney.

The influx of artists was the finishing stroke. What drew them here? Everywhere you look there’s a painting awaiting a canvas. Joseph Henry Sharp is usually given credit for starting the art boom who in 1883 spent the summer painting in Laos. Other artists and writers filtered into Santa Fe-Taos area including Will Shuster, Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Mary Austin, and the woman perhaps most associated with New Mexico art, Georgia O’Keefe.

La Fonda on the Plaza is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Fonda on the Plaza is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To know the history of Santa Fe is to enhance your visit—the City Different is a confluence of its storied past and vibrant present. The 400 year-old streets now glitter with galleries, shops, and restaurants.

There is so much to do and see that it is impossible to do it all in a few days or even in a few weeks.

Walking the streets of this charming city, evidence of the early Spanish influence is apparent in the historic missions and houses. But where to start?

And that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…
I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever….The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning sunshine high over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend….In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

Read More

4 Of The Best States for RV Travel & Camping

There are many great camping and outdoors destinations across the US―camping is abundant at national parks, state parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas.

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each state has a unique appeal, but four stand out from the rest as great RV travel and camping destinations: New Mexico, Utah, South Carolina, and Georgia.

New Mexico

Artists Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe once made the landscapes of New Mexico famous, but New Mexico isn’t just for artists―there are great camping, recreational, and sightseeing opportunities.

New Mexico is home to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, numerous state parks, and historical parks. You can drive the historic US Route 66 or one of 25 scenic byways. In New Mexico, camping road trip possibilities are aplenty.

The camping possibilities are endless and quiet. The locals love their solitude and there is plenty of it. Famous for its beautiful skies, desserts, mountains, and grasslands, New Mexico offers an abundance of outdoor activities. You can hike, bike, ride ATVs and horses, hunt, fish, climb, and cave; in New Mexico, there is an outdoor adventure for everybody.

Utah

Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its diverse landscapes, geology, and recreational opportunities, Utah is an intriguing destination. Home to five national parks and seven national monuments, Utah is a paradise for RVers who love the outdoors.  Elevations rise and fall dramatically in the shape of mountains, buttes, and plateaus, the highest reaching over 13,000 feet.

Camp in the comfort of your RV and explore the awe-inspiring geology of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef national parks. A geological wonderland, Arches is one of Utah’s most accessible national parks. Towering spires, fins, petrified dunes, massive sandstone buttes, and balanced rocks complement the arches.

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. A journey like no other, this exceptional 124-mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys.

South Carolina

Reedy River and Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Reedy River and Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Lowcountry to lakes and blackwater rivers to Upcountry whitewater and waterfalls, you’ll find an endless selection of places to RV in South Carolina. From the foothills of The Upcountry to the fun activities of Myrtle Beach and The Grand Strand, unlimited camping opportunities await the RV traveler.

A land of rugged forested mountains, scenic lakes, rushing whitewater rapids, and cascading waterfalls, the Upcountry is a favorite outdoor adventure and family vacation destination.

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing.

With fun family beaches, over 100 championship golf courses, outlet malls, specialty shops, live musical theatre, nightclubs, and a variety of family attractions, Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand is a the ultimate RV destination.

Georgia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia offers RVers unlimited travel options from stunning mountain vistas to rushing rivers and waterfalls, charming towns to bustling cities and unspoiled Atlantic beaches. A variety of RV adventures can be experienced throughout the state.

Stunning vistas amid Northeast Georgia’s mountains make this region a natural paradise for RVers. Outdoor activities include boating, fishing, and hiking. At an elevation of 4,784 feet Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest mountain. The re-creation of a Bavarian village complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers, Helen offers shopping, restaurants, mountain scenery, Oktoberfest, Alpenfest, and other seasonal festivals.

The Coast offers miles of shoreline, windswept dunes, and historic ports and towns. Savannah’s stunning architecture, 21 historic squares, and Low Country landscape make the city a top RV destination. Nestled along the coast are the city of Brunswick and four barrier islands: St. Simons, Sea, Little St. Simons, and Jekyll. A ferry ride from St. Mary’s transports travelers to Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Worth Pondering…

What a life. Today, it’s New Mexico, yesterday it was Utah, and shortly before that we were in South Carolina. Soon it will be Georgia.

Read More

5 Obscure National Parks

The National Park Service, which is preparing to celebrate its centennial next year, set a record for guests in 2014 with 292.8 million visits.

Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The previous record was set in 1999, when slightly more than 287.1 million people visited the parks. Visits were up 7 percent over 2013, when parks closed during a 16-day government shutdown.

The park service also released the list of most- and least-visited park sites in 2014. There were no real surprises on the most-visited list. The top five were the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Lincoln Memorial, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

But the list of least-visited park sites offered a few surprises.

Places such as the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska are understandable because of their remoteness.

But a few seem as if they should attract more visitors.

Nicodemus National Historic Site in Kansas is the oldest and only remaining black settlement in the American West. Founded by freed blacks from Kentucky in 1877, the town provided a refuge for African-Americans fleeing the post-Reconstruction South. The visitors center is in the 1939 Township Hall. Visitors can also take a walking tour to see five historic buildings. The site had 3,374 visitors last year.

The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site near Danville, California, includes the home of America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright. Visitors can take a free guided tour of the retreat that O’Neill dubbed Tao House and where he wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night and four other plays. But the site can be visited only via park service shuttle from Danville, which, perhaps, discourages some potential guests. The site had 3,202 visitors in 2014.

Below are five of our favorite obscure, off the beaten path national parks, where crowds and jam-packed roads and parking areas are not an issue even during the peak summer travel season. Each is special in its own way.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

2014 visitor count: 48,105

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is the best preserved iron plantation in North America.

Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smoke houses, blacksmith shop, office store, charcoal house, and a schoolhouse.

In about 1100, the Anasasi settled near the present town of Aztec. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In about 1100, the Anasasi settled near the present town of Aztec. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

2014 visitor count: 26,808

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. The monument is noted for its solitude, clear skies and undeveloped, natural character.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

2014 visitor count: 44,721

In about 1110, a wandering band of Anasazi, a skilled farming people looking for a new home selected a high ridge along the west bank of the Animas River, opposite the present town of Aztec. They constructed a large dwelling of sculptured and fitted stones. Built over a four-year period, it was an E-shaped structure of about 400 rooms and 24 kivas that reached three stories high in places.

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, Arizona

2014 visitor count: 81,475

Very little has changed in more than a century at Hubbell Trading Post, the oldest continuously operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. 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.

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

2014 visitor count: 46,256

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

El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

Read More

Summer Is Season of Road Trips But Where To Go?

Summer, season of road trips, is upon us. But where should we go? That, my friends, depends on you.

The Old Talbott Tavern had its share of famous guests over the years. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown had its share of famous guests over the years. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 18,000 campgrounds, RV parks, and RV resorts, you have plenty of choices. Get out your maps and pinpoint a couple destinations—both large and small, renowned and obscure—that you think make a great spot to plot into a summer road trip plan. Be sure to include what about your pick (the food? an odd landmark? the view?) makes it so very worth the drive.

Following are four great summer destinations for RVers to make memories that will last a lifetime.

Bardstown, Kentucky

If you like visiting warm, welcoming small towns with beautiful old buildings and colorful history, you’ll love Bardstown, Kentucky. And if you favor bourbon, that’s an added bonus.

One of Bardstown’s most prominent buildings is the Old Talbott Tavern, which has offered shelter to weary travelers since 1779. Modern diners can enjoy Kentucky specialties in the same taproom where Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark, and Abraham Lincoln once ate.

Bardstown has about 200 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the two most famous are Wickland and Federal Hill. Wickland is generally regarded as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the state. It’s Federal Hill, however, that has gained worldwide fame as, legend has it, the subject of composer Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home.

Monument Valley has isolated red mesas, buttes and a sprawling, sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monument Valley has isolated red mesas, buttes and a sprawling, sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Magnificent Monument Valley is not a national or state park but, with 91,696 acres, it is a small part of the great Navajo Nation that covers much of northeastern Arizona and stretches into Utah and New Mexico.

Navajo Tribal Park has isolated red mesas, buttes and a sprawling, sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. Crimson mesas and surreal sandstone towers rise hundreds of feet into the air, some as tall as 1,000 feet.

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery and incredible beauty. It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless. Explore this wonderland of rocks along a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive.

Greenville, South Carolina

Falls Park on the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville'
Far more than a nature lover’s paradise, Falls Park on the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville’s Historic West End, is one of Greenville’s greatest treasures. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, South Carolina’s Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. For starters, it’s home to the highest waterfall east of the Rockies—411-foot Whitewater Falls.

Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park.

Among the city’s several historic districts, the West End has developed into one of the Palmetto State’s most eclectic art districts, with buildings adapted for studio space and galleries.

Other attractions within Greenville include the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. a zoo with more than 200 animals and the Roper Mountain Science Center, which features an observatory, Sealife Room, living history farm, Discovery Room, chemistry/physic shows and a planetarium.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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

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.

Worth Pondering…

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

Read More

Explore The Diversity Of New Mexico National Parks

From rugged mountaintops to grassy plains to lowland desert, New Mexico is indeed a true Land of Enchantment.

Aztec Ruins National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing six of the world’s seven life zones, the state’s landscapes exude diversity. Offering unlimited of unique opportunities, the Land of Enchantment attracts millions of visitors who seek out its scenic beauty and countless outdoor recreation activities.

Enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the national parks of the Land of Enchantment.

In an earlier post Vogel Talks RVing discussed the unlimited opportunities available for outdoor recreation and camping at New Mexico’s 35 state parks—24 having ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes.

Vogel Talks RVing also discussed New Mexico State Museums and Historical Sites worthy of a visit this summer.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, also consider coordinating visits to national parks in the area.

There are 19 national parks, national monuments, and national historical trails within the borders of New Mexico.

Aztec Ruins National Monument: Aztec ruins, built and occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan people over a 200-mile period, preserves an extended and planned community of a variety of structures. Included are several large, multi-story public buildings (“great houses”), many smaller residential pueblos, ceremonial kivas, remnants of linear “roads,” and earthen berms.

Bandelier National Monument: Thirteenth-century pueblo-style dwellings dot the rugged, canyon-slashed slopes and bottoms of the Pajarito Plateau. The Bandelier terrain is challenging, the scenery spectacular, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and lush, narrow canyons that alternate with sweeping mesa-top vistas.

El Malpais National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capulin Volcano National Monument: Capulin Volcano, a nearly perfectly-shaped cinder cone, stands more than 1,200 feet above the surrounding high plains of northeastern New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Established to preserve Carlsbad Caverns and numerous other caves within a Permian-age fossil reef, this park contains more than 100 known caves, including Lechuguilla Cave—the nation’s deepest limestone cave, at 1,567 feet, and the third longest. The Big Room is one of the world’s largest and most accessible underground chambers.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park: Chaco Culture preserves one of America’s most significant and fascinating cultural and historic areas. Chaco Canyon was a major center of Ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250. It was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area—unlike anything before or since.

El Malpais National Monument: Although el malpais means “the badlands,” this unique area holds many surprises. Lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges, complex lava tube systems, and other volcanic features dominate the mysterious El Malpais landscape.

El Morro National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National MonumentEl Morro’s Inscription rock in northwest New Mexico bears silent witness to more than 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded water hole, Anasazi, Spanish, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on this sandstone bluff. Inscription Rock is a soft sandstone monolith, rising 200 feet above the valley floor.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse into the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture, who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280 through the early 1300s. The monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest, and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

Petroglyph National Monument: Petroglyph protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved in rock by native people and early Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Monument: This site contains a large portion of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Here, glistening white dunes rise 60 feet high, and cover 275 square miles. Driven by strong southwest winds, sand slowly but relentlessly covers everything in its path. Surprisingly, many small animals and plants have adapted to this harsh environment.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Read More

Relive & Explore The Past In Public Lands Of New Mexico

Relive the Wild West, explore exotic cultures, return to the dawn of recorded history, and travel back to prehistoric times.

New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors, Santa Fe © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Glance into the future exploring the solar system and far beyond. And enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birding, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the public lands of the Land of Enchantment. New Mexico offers unlimited of unique opportunities.

In an earlier post Vogel Talks RVing discussed the unlimited opportunities available for outdoor recreation and camping at New Mexico’s 35 state parks—24 having ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes.

When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, consider coordinating visits to state parks, state museums, state monuments, and national parks in the area.

To get started, check out the following state museums and historical sites.

Bosque Redondo Memorial at Fort Sumner: A unique new museum designed by Navajo architect David Sloan—shaped like a hogan and a tepee—and an interpretive trail, provide information about the tragic history of Fort Sumner and Bosque Redondo Indian Reservation.

Coronado Historic Site
Coronado Historic Site

Coronado Historic Site: In 1540, Francisco Vásquez de Coronado—with 500 soldiers and 2,000 Indian allies—entered the Rio Grande valley near this site. Searching for the fabled Seven Cities of Gold, he instead found a dozen villages inhabited by prosperous native farmers.

El Camino Real Historic Trail Site: Journey along the historic Camino Real, the Royal Road of the Interior Lands. This 1,500-mile historic trade route that extends from Mexico City to Ohkay Owingeh, is one of the oldest trails in the US and, for more than a century, one of the longest.

Fort Selden Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fort Selden Historic Site © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Selden Historic Site: Fort Selden was established in 1865 in an effort to bring peace to the south central region of present day New Mexico. Built on the banks of the Rio Grande, this adobe fort protected settlers and travelers in the Mesilla Valley from desperados and Apache Indians.

Fort Stanton Historic Site: Fort Stanton is situated on 240 acres and surrounded by 1,300 acres of undeveloped BLM land in south-central New Mexico. There are 88 buildings on this historic site, some dating back to 1855.

Jemez National Historic Landmark: A short drive from Albuquerque and Bernalillo, the Jemez National Historic Landmark is one of the most beautiful historic sites in the Southwest. It includes the stone ruins of a 500-year-old village and the San José de los Jemez church dating to 1621-22.

Lincoln Historic Site: A town made famous by one of the most violent periods in New Mexico history. See the Old Courthouse with exhibits detailing the Lincoln County War. Walk in the footsteps of Billy the Kid, Pat Garrett, and other characters of the Wild West.

Lincoln Historic Site
Lincoln Historic Site

New Mexico History Museum/Palace of the Governors: Originally constructed in the early 17th century as Spain’s seat of government for what is today the American Southwest, the Palace of the Governors chronicles the history of Santa Fe, as well as New Mexico and the region. This adobe structure, now the state’s history museum, was designated a Registered National Historic Landmark in 1960 and an American Treasure in 1999.

New Mexico Museum of Space History: A visit to the Museum of Space History is a trip into the origins of our nation’s space exploration program. The Museum is composed of The Museum of Space History, The International Space Hall of Fame, The John P. Stapp Air & Space Park, Daisy Track, The Clyde W. Tombaugh IMAX Theater, and Astronaut Memorial Garden.

New Mexico Farm and Ranch Heritage Museum: Located in Las Cruces, the Museum tells the story of agriculture from 800 years ago when Native Americans planted corn, squash, and beans to today’s agribusinesses and family farms. Explore the museum, both inside—where you can see art and other exhibits and outside—where you can meet cattle and other livestock face to face.

Fort Stanton Historic Site
Fort Stanton Historic Site

Museum of Indian Arts & Culture: A premier repository of Native art and material culture, the Museum tells the stories of the people of the Southwest from pre-history through contemporary art. Located in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, the museum shares its location with the other museums of Museum Hill: Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, and Museum of International Folk Art.

Please Note: This is Part 2 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Read More

4 Great Restaurants From Our Road Trips Across America

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

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

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

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

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

Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas

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

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

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

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

Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Erma Bombeck

Read More

Explore The Diversity Of New Mexico State Parks

From rugged mountaintops to grassy plains to lowland desert, New Mexico is indeed a true Land of Enchantment.

Elephant Butte State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Elephant Butte State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing six of the world’s seven life zones, the state’s landscapes exude diversity. Offering unlimited of unique opportunities, the Land of Enchantment attracts millions of visitors who seek out its scenic beauty and countless outdoor recreation activities.

Enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the state parks of the Land of Enchantment.

From June to August 2014, New Mexico State Parks hosted 1,740,799 visitors. Elephant Butte State Park had 395,522 visitors during that time. And since the water is up, state park officials expect considerably more this summer. The water level of the state’s largest and most popular lake is up over 45 feet from the 2013 low point.

For those looking for a less crowded getaway, the Land of Enchantment boasts 35 state parks and 24 of those parks have ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes. When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, consider coordinating visits to state museums and monuments and national parks in the area.

To get started, check out the following state parks.

Leasburg Dam State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Leasburg Dam State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bottomless Lakes State Park: Located just 14 miles southeast of Roswell, Bottomless Lakes State Park is your place for bottomless fun. Enjoy non-motorized boating in your kayak or canoe, camp, fish, picnic, swim, hike, go birding or even scuba dive! The unique lakes at this park are sinkholes, ranging from 17 to 90 feet deep. The greenish-blue color created by aquatic plants is what gives the lakes the illusion of great depth.

City of Rocks State Park: A kid pleaser that looks like a sci-fi movie set, the “city” is the result of erosion of rocks deposited after a mega volcanic eruption 34.9 million years ago. Located between Silver City and Deming, City of Rocks offers a visitor center and observatory, camp sites, hiking trails, mountain biking, wildlife viewing, birding, stargazing, picnic areas, modern restrooms with hot showers, and a desert botanical garden.

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rio Grande Nature Center State Park, Albuquerque © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elephant Butte State Park: New Mexico’s largest state park offers restrooms, picnic areas, playgrounds, and camping with developed sites with electric and water hook-ups for RVs and boating facilities that can accommodate kayaks, jet skis, pontoons, sailboats, ski boats, cruisers, and houseboats.

Caballo Lake State Park: Framed against the Caballo Mountains, the lake boasts an array of water recreation, such as boating, kayaking, canoeing, sailing, swimming, and fishing. The park has 170 campsites, many offering utility hookups for RVs.

Leasburg Dam State Park: A short 25 minute drive north of Las Cruces, this park offers peace and relaxation, canoeing and kayaking, hiking and birding, an observatory that offers night sky programs, and small and big rig RV camping.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park: On the Rio Grande near Mesilla, this quiet park has self-guided nature trails, ranger-guided tours, and a visitor center that’s a great place for information about the area and its wildlife.

Oliver Lee Memorial State Park: Near Alamogordo, this park offers views of the Sacramento Mountains, a historic ranch house, nature trails, camping, and an oasis of pools of water under the cottonwood trees of Dog Canyon.

Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesilla Valley Bosque State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pancho Villa State Park: Located between the border communities of Columbus and Palomas, Mexico, this unique park and campground offers a chance to explore both of now-friendly little towns and learn about their unique roles in history. The park’s exhibit hall has a vintage aircraft and displays that bring to life the days of Camp Furlong, the Pancho Villa Raid, and a fascinating chapter in military and Borderland history. The campground, particularly beautiful when cactuses are in bloom, has utility hookups for RVs and a playground for youngsters.

Rio Grande Nature Center State Park: Located in Albuquerque on the Rio Grande flyway, the park offers excellent birdwatching opportunities throughout the year. There are indoor and outdoor wildlife viewing areas overlooking ponds, and trail access to the Rio Grande.

Rockhound State Park: Campgrounds, trails, wildflowers, the scenic Little Florida Mountains and, of course, the geological specimens that attract rockhounds from around the world, are stellar attractions for this park near Deming.

Santa Rosa Lake State Park: This reservoir on the plains of eastern New Mexico offers fishing, boating, camping, and hiking, as well as abundant bird watching opportunities. Equestrians are welcome at the Los Tanos Campground.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

Read More