Top 5 Picks for 2015

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

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

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

Grand Canyon National Park

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Fe

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

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

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

Cajun Country

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

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

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

Grand Circle Tour

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

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

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

Blue Ridge Parkway

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Mark Yost

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Obscure Snowbird Destinations

Every winter thousands of Canadians and Americans from the northern climes head south to the U.S Sunbelt. The snowbird hotspots include vast stretches of the Florida coastline, a variety of popular Arizona desert locations, and Palm Springs, the always fashionable playground of the rich and famous.

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Imagine instead going to an undiscovered winter retreat. Like the popular hotspots, you’ll find a variety of shopping, quality restaurants, excellent golfing, bird watching, fishing, outdoor recreation, entertainment, top rate medical facilities, friendly people, and much more.

Following are three obscure snowbird destinations in the U.S sunbelt.

Gold Canyon, Arizona

Gold Canyon is adjacent to the Superstition Mountain Wilderness and at the foothills of Superstition Mountain, which offer thousands of square miles of public land for hiking, off road trails, bike riding, photography, and other outdoor sports. There are five 18-hole championship length golf courses within Gold Canyon and dozens more within a 30 minute drive—something for most every skill level and budget.

Gold Canyon offers a wide variety of activities and attractions: arts events, baseball spring training, the Renaissance Festival, museums, swap meets, state parks, and so much more.

The views of the Superstition Mountain, along with evening sunsets, makes Gold Canyon one of the most picturesque areas in all of Arizona. It is a great place to call your winter home.

Numerous 5-star RV parks and resorts are located within the immediate area including Canyon Vista RV Resort (2014 Good Sam rating: 9, 9.5*, 9), our home for several weeks last winter—and yes, we would return in a heartbeat.

Las Cruces, New Mexico

Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after a day of safe travel.
Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled in the fertile Mesilla Valley between the majestic Organ Mountains and the meandering Rio Grande, Las Cruces, New Mexico, is becoming a popular southwestern snowbird destination.

Las Cruces is an ideal central location to explore and experience the best of New Mexico’s past, present, and future. Ideally located at the crossroads of Interstate 10 and 25, “The City of the Crosses” is a blend of culture, museums, historical sites, scenic beauty, and superb weather with 320 days of sunshine per year.

The area offers spectacular year-round golf, unique special events, world-class New Mexico cuisine, and two national monuments—White Sands and Organ Mountain Desert Peaks.

Memorable excursions include historic Old Mesilla, several living ghost towns, the New Mexico Museum of Space History, and Spaceport America, home to the world’s first commercial passenger spaceline company, Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic.

Numerous 5-star RV parks and resorts are located within the immediate area including Hacienda RV & Rally Resort (2014 Good Sam rating: 8.5, 9.5*, 8.5), our home on several occasions.

Alabama Gulf Coast

The Alabama Gulf Coast. features 32 miles of white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Alabama Gulf Coast. features 32 miles of white sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico.
© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

While Alabama’s shoreline may not be the first place that pops to mind when planning a winter getaway, don’t overlook it. With miles of sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand, Snowbirds will find what they’re looking for—and more—along Alabama’s Gulf Coast.

Our RV travels have taken us through the area on numerous occasions as we drove I-10 from Florida to Texas. Several years ago we decided to check out the Alabama Gulf Coast for ourselves and it did not disappoint.

Fresh seafood is the standard along the Gulf Coast. Seafood markets offer shrimp, oysters, crab, and snapper. There are numerous seafood restaurants with an endless assortment of dishes.

Small towns on the Alabama Gulf Coast including Gulf Shores, Orange Beach, Foley, Daphne, and Fairhope welcome RVers and offer outdoor adventures including hiking, biking, canoeing, and birding.

Numerous 5-star RV parks and resorts are located within the immediate area including Lake Osprey RV Country Club (2014 Good Sam rating: 10,10*, 10), our winter home along the Gulf Coast. Another prime destination park, Bella Terra of Gulf Shores (2014 Good Sam rating: 10,10*, 10) is an upscale Class A motorhome resort community.

With so many great Sunbelt destinations, snowbirds have plenty of options. Visiting several different areas may help you choose the snowbird destination that is best for you.

Worth Pondering…

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

—Lewis Carrol

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Snowbird Migrate Southward To U.S. Sunbelt

As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds escape winter at home by migrating southward each year.

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There is an actual bird, the common snowbird, or dark-eyed junco, that migrates south from the cold in groups. John James Audubon, the great naturalist and painter, once wrote of the snowbird, “The migration of these birds is performed by night, as they are seen in a district one day and have disappeared the next.”

Then he added, “So gentle and tame does the snowbird become on the least approach of hard weather that it forms, as it were, a companion to every child. Indeed, there is not an individual in the Union who does not know the little snowbird, which, in America, is cherished as the Robin is in Europe.”

Not all of the human variety may be similarly cherished, but they do become companions. As each autumn gives way to winter, most seem to be welcomed back — warmly — to the U.S. Sunbelt.

The attraction of recreational vehicle travel is to see the country, visit new places, meet interesting people, and experience the freedom of the open road. As we explore North America by RV, natural beauty abounds when least expected, and surprises wait at every turn of the road.

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

Each journey we take represents a passage, whether it’s an adventure to a new state or province, a day trip to a new attraction, or an outing with friends.

Never driving our motorhome along a pre-arranged route, we vary stops along the way often taking two to three months to reach our southern destinations.

Sound familiar to anyone?

Even though many consider leaving their home constitutes a vacation, this popular lifestyle should really be thought of simply as being able to enjoy life as you relocate your condo-on-wheels to more desirable seasonal locations.

Selecting your balmy Snowbird roost is when all the fun starts. Choice is in rich supply, and for those who like to hop around a bit, a combination of spots can let you sample entire regions and states.

Superstition Mountain Museum
To further understand and appreciate the Superstition Mountains area, its legend, history, and intrigue tour the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum, near Apache Junction, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the biggest consideration should be on what kind of environment you’re looking for, as well what kind of activities you’d like to pursue. Do you crave white sandy beaches and tropical temperatures? Or dry air and rustic frontier homesteads? Perhaps a thriving music and arts scene? Or maybe you’re after a balance of big city fun and small-town charm?

Many communities seem tailor made for snowbirds, complete with popular tourism attractions, spectacular national parks and scenery that’s open year-round. Check out the RV shows, farmers markets, swap meets, festivals, sports events,  and other events occurring in your prospective destination.

You’re probably familiar with the snowbird hot spots in Arizona, Texas, Florida, and California. Keep in mind that you can also find great snowbird roosts in places like Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, New Mexico, and Nevada. Great snowbird destinations thrive across the Sun Belt; all you have to do is find the one that’s right for you.

Many Snowbirds are north-south creatures, meaning those from the Northwest tend to settle in Arizona, Nevada and California; those from the Midwest flock to Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana; and those from the Northeast head for Florida.

The Cajun Palms RV Resort (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana) swimming pool contains a big plastic pirate ship for children to board and a gigantic purple-and-green dragon stretched across the middle of the water.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Cajun Palms RV Resort (Breaux Bridge, Louisiana) swimming pool contains a big plastic pirate ship for children to board and a gigantic purple-and-green dragon stretched across the middle of the water. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Are you planning on heading directly south from your home location? Or will you cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude?

Regardless of your journey, factor in the drive times and travel expenses. You wouldn’t want your snowbird stay to be cut short by time on the road.

While you’re at it, be sure to account for the changing weather conditions you’ll encounter on your travels. If you haven’t given yourself enough time to avoid the first frost or snow, plan accordingly. Make sure you allow yourself enough time for cold-weather driving, and bring enough warm-weather clothes to get you through the journey.

Carefully plan the stops along the way, and give yourself some time to do some sightseeing on the journey south.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snow-bird life

behind the wheel.

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Best Fall Foliage, Leaf Peepers & The National Media

Known for its vibrant culture and rich history, Taos, New Mexico and the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway have earned their positions among leaf peepers and national media alike as being one of the top locations in the United States to see an impressive fall landscape dotted with a palette of warm reds, oranges, and gold foliage.

Explore the Enchanted Circle scenic byway through valleys, mesa, mountains, and national forest... all unique to north central New Mexico.
Explore the Enchanted Circle scenic byway through valleys, mesa, mountains, and national forest… all unique to north central New Mexico.

In the past month alone, Taos and the Enchanted Circle have topped several “best fall trip” lists in the country including in: Huffington Post (“10 Best Fall Foliage Trips In The U.S.”), National Geographic (“10 Best Fall Trips in World”), Los Angeles Times (“New Mexico’s Enchanted Byway Brings Fall Foliage Viewing Full Circle”), and USA Today (“10 Best: Places to see fall colors”), to name a few.

According to US Forest Service officials from the Carson National Forest which encompasses Taos County, elevations above 8,500 are beginning to peak and will reach their height by the first week of October. In the Carson National Forest, several hiking spots allow for prime leaf peeping while hiking. They include: Middle Fork Trail 24 (25 miles south of Taos on NM 518 in Peñasco); Devisadero Trail, once used by the Taos Pueblo Indians standing guard against raiding Apaches (three miles east of Taos along US 64); and Williams Lake Trail (near Taos Ski Valley).

Taos sits at an elevation of just under 7,000 feet, while villages along the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway range in elevation from 7,392 in Questa to 8,650 feet in Red River.

The 85-mile Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway Loop can take anywhere from 2.5 hours to half a day, depending on stops. The highest peak in New Mexico—Wheeler Peak at 13,167 feet—is visible along the route, or can become a diversion along the route through the scenic Taos Ski Valley.

The Byway loop begins in the original art colony of Taos and meanders through the Hondo Valley where famous author D.H. Lawrence once lived. The D.H. Lawrence Ranch was recently reopened to the public through the end of October. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.

Leaf peepers will notice Wheeler Peak along the windy road to Questa which is just half an hour north of Taos. The Wild Rivers area is where the Red River behind the town joins the Rio Grande in its deep and dramatic gorge. From Questa, the steep ascent into Red River is unusually scenic, offering stirring vistas of spruce and aspen.

Eagle Nest
Known as the Gateway to the picturesque Enchanted Circle in North Central New Mexico, Eagle Nest is conveniently located near Angel Fire Ski Resort and Red River ski area, Eagle Nest Lake, Cimarron Canyon, and Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Parks. (Source: iredriver.com)

Eagle Nest, just south of Red River, has a beautiful 2,400 acre lake stocked with trout and kokanee salmon and a chance to see wildlife such as elk, deer, bear, and eagles. The drive culminates with a stop at Angel Fire where the Vietnam Veterans Memorial State Park stands. Built by one family as a shrine to their fallen son, the site is one of unusual emotion and presence. The drive returns to Taos along Highway 64.

Expect to see aspens changing to a vibrant gold along the drive in addition to Gambel Oak which transforms into a rusty red hue in fall. Golden cottonwoods along the Rio Grande River should also be visible in Taos.

Alternate directions (east to west) along the Enchanted Circle from Taos are: turn east on NM 585 (Paseo del Cañon), which dead ends at US 64, turn right. US 64 continues to Angel Fire and Eagle Nest. From Eagle Nest, turn north on NM 38 to Red River and into Questa. In Questa, turn south (left) on NM 522 which returns to Taos.

Another option for visitors seeking an eye-full is the “High Road,” which totals over 100 miles roundtrip, but offers awe-inspiring scenery and remote mountain villages that cling to their Spanish colonial roots.

Fall is a season of color in Taos: the gold of aspen and cottonwood trees, the red and green of chile peppers, and the multi-colored artist's palette.
Fall is a season of color in Taos: the gold of aspen and cottonwood trees, the red and green of chile peppers, and the multi-colored artist’s palette.

Along with a multi-hued feast for the eyes, Taos has many colorful cultural offerings in late September and early October including the 40th annual Fall Arts Festival and Taos Wool Festival, to name a few.

The oldest art festival in Taos—Taos Fall Arts Festival—features nine days of art events including The Paseo on September 26 which will feature outdoor art installations, performances, and visual projections. Taos Selects, Distinguished Achievement Awards, Memorial Wall, Pecha Kucha Night, and many more special events are intertwined within this amazing festival which takes place September 26–October 5. Visit taosfallarts.com for details.

One of Taos’ signature events—the 31st Wool Festival at Taos—will be held on October 4 and 5 and includes juried fiber arts creations; critters corner with live animals; demonstrations; silent auction; kid’s hands on section; contests; food vendors and more. Visit taoswoolfestival.org to learn more about the free event.

For complete information about Taos including more about the Enchanted Circle Scenic Byway drive, visit taos.org.

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

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3 Places To Go In August

This is it: The last full month of summer.

Don’t start pulling out the sweaters yet. There’s still a full month of summer to enjoy.

Before the cool air starts moving in, these three festival hot spots are great for your late summer escape.

Elvis Week 2014

elvisweek_2014_logoAugust is a special time for Elvis Presley fans and the city of Memphis. Each year, thousands of Elvis fans from around the world descend on the hometown of the late performer to celebrate his life, music, movies, and legacy during the annual Elvis Week.

Graceland is front and center for events celebrating the life of the iconic performer. But Elvis’ Memphis home is just the heart of the activities during Elvis Week. Traditional events such as the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, musical tours around the city of Memphis, special concerts, fan club gatherings, and much more will occur at Graceland and around the city during Elvis Week.

The highlight of the week is the annual Candlelight Vigil, which takes place the night of August 15. Fans walk up the driveway to Elvis’ gravesite and back down carrying a candle in honor of the King, who died in his home on August 16, 1977.

Elvis Week 2014 kicked off Friday, August 8, with the Hard Rock Last Chance Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest. It ends more than a week later on Sunday, August 17, with the Elvis Gospel Celebration.

When: August 8-17, 2014

Cost: Ticket prices vary by event

Website: www.graceland.com

Burning Man 2014_theme_caravansaryBurning Man 2014: Caravansary

One of the most famous art and music festivals in the world, this year’s Burning Man theme is Caravansary. Come find yourself in the dust while donning fabulous costumes, gifting things to strangers and new friends alike, and marveling at some of the most impressive artwork out there.

Burning Man is an annual event and a thriving year-round culture. The event takes place the week leading up to and including Labor Day, in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert.

The Burning Man organization creates the infrastructure of Black Rock City, wherein attendees (or “participants”) dedicate themselves to the spirit of community, art, self-expression, and self-reliance. They depart one week later, leaving no trace.

As simple as this may seem, trying to explain what Burning Man is to someone who has never been to the event is a bit like trying to explain what a particular color looks like to someone who is blind. To truly understand this event, one must participate.

When: August 25-September 1, 2014

Cost: Tickets run $380

Website: www.burningman.com

43rd Annual Hatch Valley Chili Festival

Hatch Chii Festival header-140218As summer cools down, the Village of Hatch, New Mexico, heats up. Labor Day weekend heralds the annual Hatch Chile Festival, a two-day celebration of the valley’s world-famous crop. The festival attracts over 30,000 visitors from all over the United States, including such notables as the Food Network and the BBC.

Festival goers can sample famed chile recipes, watch the crowning of the chile festival queen, or toss a horseshoe in celebration of this famous crop. The event also features chile ristra contests, artisan and food booths, red chili cook-off, chili eating contests, a carnival, and live entertainment including bands, mariachis, and children’s folklorico.

The Village of Hatch, the “Chile Capital of the Universe”, is located off Interstate 25, between Las Cruces and Truth or Consequences.

The opening of Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport, brings the exciting frontier of commercial space travel to the Village. The entrance to Spaceport America is only nine miles south from Hatch, which makes us the Village “New Gateway to Space.”

When: August 30-31, 2014

Cost: $10/vehicle; valid for both days

Website: www.hatchchilefest.com

Worth Pondering…
Much travel is needed before the raw man is ripened.
—Proverb of the Caravan of Dreams

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RV Travel Tips for Pet Owners

Attention pet lovers: recreational vehicles and pets are a perfect match.

Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Traveling in an RV gives you the ability to bring your family pet along for the fun. With the company of your animal companion and without the anxiety of boarding your pet or asking a neighbor or friend to pet-sit, you can enjoy your camping trip with the entire family.

More and more RVers are traveling with their pets and finding it makes RVing even more enjoyable. Recreational vehicles and pets are, in most cases, a good mix. If your pets enjoy riding with you in the car, they’ll also enjoy traveling in the RV.

According the Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA), more than 50 percent of RV travelers bring pets on their travels. Among these pet owners, 78 percent bring dogs, 15 percent travel with cats, and the remaining pet owners travel with birds or other small pets.

The RV industry’s suppliers and manufacturers have made an effort to accommodate mobile pets, from collapsible pet window cages to special tie-downs for dogs built into RVs.
More and more campgrounds and RV parks now welcome pets and an increasing number are becoming pet friendly.

Plan your trip with pet-friendly destinations in mind. Contact the campground ahead of time to determine their policies on pets and then plan accordingly. If your lifestyle or your pet’s lifestyle cannot adapt, find a different campground or change your destination. Only as a last resort, reconsider taking your pet.

Bring copies of vaccination records with you, as you never know when you might need them.

The American RV Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, not only receives high Good Sam rating for its facilities but has something to offer every member of the family from its heated swimming pool for the kids, a spa for the adults, and a dog park for the family pet on board. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The American RV Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, not only receives high Good Sam rating for its facilities but has something to offer every member of the family from its heated swimming pool for the kids, a spa for the adults, and a dog park for the family pet on board. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ensure your pet is properly identified. Also, obtain identification with the address of your destination.

Carry a photo of your pet. You’ll be glad you did if you find yourself in the unfortunate position of making, photocopying, and posting “lost pet” notices.

Bring along your pet’s bed and favorite toys so it will feel comfortable and at home on the road. If traveling with a feline friend, think through the cat-box arrangement. Having extra litter, a covered litter box, plastic bags for disposal, scoop, and baking soda to cover the bottom of the box will keep mess and odor to a minimum.

Your dog feels as cramped as you do after hours of traveling. It’s important that you walk your canine pet when you take rest stops. If your pet is a cat, walks aren’t an issue, but plenty of stretching room is.

Upon registration request a site away from other campers, shady if it’s hot, sunny if it’s cool. Check about leash rules, dog-walk areas, “poop-scooping” policies, and local dog parks.

Once you make camp, abide by the camp’s pet policies. No-spill food and water bowls make the experience even easier. Keep water within reach and keep any possible entanglements out of the way.

Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Never let your pet wander. Portable enclosed pens will enable your pets to enjoy the outside with you. Always clean up after your pet. Be a quiet and considerate neighbor—nothing ruins a camping experience for others like a constantly barking dog.

In selecting its list of Top Pet-Friendly RV Parks for 2014, Good Sam chose RV parks and campgrounds that feature amenities, special services, and events tailored to owners of pets.  These parks offer facilities ranging from dog runs to pet washing areas, and some hand out free treats and toys to canines upon check-in.

A number RV parks feature fenced-in dog runs on their property—a boon to travelers seeking a place to give their furry passengers a place to run after idle travel time. Also offered in some parks are trails for pet walking.

Among the most luxurious pet amenities are fenced-in dog wash stations, with stainless-steel sinks, soap, and warm water available to wash pets.

The American RV Park in Albuquerque, New Mexico, not only receives high Good Sam rating for its facilities but has something to offer every member of the family from its heated swimming pool for the kids, a spa for the adults, and a dog park for the family pet on board.

Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Pet friendly amenities at Bentsen Palm Village in the Rio Grande Valley include dog agility course and pet parade. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A favorite with Winter Texans, Bentsen Palm Village has 5.5 miles of onsite hiking and biking trails as well as numerous organized activities and workshops, from couples dancing to gourd painting, and Swedish blanket making to water color painting.

Pet friendly amenities include dog agility course and pet parade. The dog park became so popular that the owners recently added a second park so that guests could have separate running and play areas for big dogs and small dogs.

Happy camping to you and your four-footed friends. Most of all, have fun with your pet! After all, it’s a ruff life being a dog!

Worth Pondering…

We give dogs time we can spare, space we can spare and love we can spare. And in return, dogs give us their all. It’s the best deal man has ever made.

—M. Facklam

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Construction Underway at 260-site Angel Fire RV Resort

Angel Fire Resort’s new multi-million dollar luxury RV park is beginning to take shape.

Construction workers hoisting the frame of Angel Fire Resort’s RV Resort gate house into place. (Source: sangrechronicle.com)
Construction workers hoisting the frame of Angel Fire Resort’s RV Resort gate house into place. (Source: sangrechronicle.com)

After installing the footers and stem walls on the 2,526 square-foot gate house, which is the first structure being built in the RV resort, the general contractor and workers from Blue Sky Builders, Inc. in Espanola started hoisting the frame into place in late November.

“The plan is for him to start the framing and the building of that particular building now,” Angel Fire Resort spokesperson Krysty Ronchetti told sangrechronicle.com.

“He’ll go until he can basically go no more, and that would be when the temperatures just get too far down. But we have to see how it goes.”

The 94-acre RV Resort is being built on the south side of U.S. 64 near the west entrance to Angel Fire.

When the Angel Fire Village Council approved the site plan for the development in 2011, Angel Fire Resort announced that it planned to invest more in the project than it did in the $16 million Angel Fire Country Club built a year earlier.

According to village materials, the completed RV Resort is expected to have 260 RV sites, 10 cabins, a 3,000 square-foot office, a 4,000 square-foot clubhouse, a 3,000 square-foot maintenance building, dog runs, walking trails, horseshoe pits, a shuffleboard deck, and three 1,500 square-foot bathhouses with showers, sinks, commodes and laundry facilities, in addition to the gate house currently under construction.

Angel Fire Resort
Angel Fire Resort

The site plan includes 109 RV storage units as well, though village officials said fewer might be built because of budgeting constraints.

According to Angel Fire Community Development Director Mark Rivera, the first phase of the project will include the gate house, clubhouse, and one bathhouse on the west half of the development.

Angel Fire Chief Building Official Mauro Rosales said the village issued a building permit for the gate house on September 30 of this year, and Angel Fire Resort has not yet applied for permits for any other structures.

Rivera said the village has also granted a permit for the utilities, however, and Angel Fire Resort paid for the installation of a sewer line from the village’s main wastewater system to the edge of the property last year.

Ronchetti said the site contractor with Northern Mountain Constructors in Taos has already completed much of the dirt work as well.

“Probably from the outside, it doesn’t look like a lot’s going on, but there was a lot of the ground and earth stuff that had to take place first before these buildings could start,” she said, adding that the site contractor graded all of the land, completed all pads for the RVs and started the trench work for the sewer lines before stopping for the winter.

“Obviously, we want the snow to be there because it helps the Resort, but we would obviously have been able to push a little bit longer had weather been what it was last year, for example. It is what it is, so that part of it will be on hold until spring.”

According to village documents, Angel Fire Resort has agreed to extend water and wastewater service to the nearby Mobile Home Estates subdivision as part of the project.

Located within village boundaries, the subdivision has 15 homes currently served by a standalone wastewater-treatment facility called a package plant.

AngelFireResortDetails

Angel Fire Resort

Angel Fire Resort is a top year-round mountain resort destination in New Mexico.

Situated at over 8,600-feet elevation in the Southern Rocky Mountains, Angel Fire strives to offer the best value and choice for family outdoor recreation activities to its members, guests, and visitors—including skiing, snowboarding, golf, mountain biking, tennis, fishing, hiking, and more.

Address: PO Box 130, 10 Miller Lane, Angel Fire, NM 87710

Phone: (575) 377-6401 or (800) 633-7463 (toll free)

Website: angelfireresort.com

Worth Pondering…

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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Top 3 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic 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.

1. Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, New Mexico

Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bosque del Apache includes wetlands, farmlands, and riparian forests; and is considered one of the most spectacular refuges in North America and consistently recognized as one of the top birding areas in the United States. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bosque del Apache is Spanish for “woods of the Apache,” and is rooted in the time when the Spanish observed Apaches routinely camped in the riverside forest.

An hour from Albuquerque, a 12-mile auto loop along refuge impoundments offers great views of the Chupadera and San Pascual Mountains. From late October through early spring, see huge flocks of sandhill cranes and snow geese fly out at dawn to feed in fields and return at dusk to roost in the marshes.

In November the annual Festival of the Cranes is a premier birding event. Organized by the Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge, the 26th annual Festival of the Cranes is scheduled for November 19-24, 2013. This will be the YEAR OF PHOTOGRAPHY; plan to take advantage of the optics, camera, printing, and eco-travel expert onsite.

Wildlife to Observe: Thousands of sandhill cranes, snow geese, Ross’s geese, and ducks.

Continue reading →

Phone: (575) 835-1828

Website: fws.gov/southwest/refuges/newmex/bosque

Friends of the Bosque National Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthebosque.org

Festival of the Cranes: festivalofthecranes.com

2. Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Florida

The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida's most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The aptly-named Roseate Spoonbill is one of Florida’s most distinctive wading birds. Spoonbills feed on fish, crustaceans and aquatic insects with its unusual shaped bill. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is known for its abundant birdlife and is a major destination for birders from throughout the world. Over 320 species have been documented so no matter what season you visit, you are likely to see a variety of birds.

The peak season for birding is between October and April with optimum conditions occurring from December to February. The best place to see wildlife is along the Black Point Wildlife Drive. The 7-mile, one-way drive follows a dike road around several shallow marsh impoundments and through pine flatwoods.

Seven walking trails are routed through a variety of wildlife habitats and provide additional wildlife viewing opportunities.

The 17th Annual Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival is scheduled for January 22-27, 2014.

Wildlife to Observe: Waterfowl (in season), wading birds (including roseate spoonbills), shorebirds, and raptors. Alligators, river otters, bobcats, various species of snakes, and other wildlife may be visible as well.

Phone: (321) 861-0668

Website: fws.gov/merrittisland

Space Coast Birding and Wildlife Festival: spacecoastbirdingandwildlifefestival.org

3. Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma

Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)
Mount Scott at Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge (Credit: panoramio.com/kecid)

Take a three-mile drive to the top of Mt. Scott for a stunning panoramic view of the Wichita Mountains. Interspersed between mountain peaks, visitors may view some of country’s last untilled native prairie, where bison and cattle roam among the cross timbers—remains of dense growth of oaks and greenbriar that once covered parts of Oklahoma and Texas.

Every September the Annual Bison Roundup culls the animals for testing and separation into groups for sale, donation, or return to the herd.

Another scenic driving option is SR-49, which extends about 20 miles through the refuge. Both roads are part of the Wichita Mountains National Scenic Byway.

Wildlife to Observe: Texas Longhorn cattle, bison, elk, deer, coyotes, red-tailed hawks, prairie dogs, turkey, bobcat.

Phone: (580) 429-3222

Website: fws.gov/refuge/Wichita_Mountains

Friends of Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge: friendsofthewichitas.org

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

Part 1: Top 10 National Wildlife Refuges Scenic Drives

Part 2: Super National Wildlife Refuge Drives

Part 3: Great Scenic Drives On National Wildlife Refuges

Worth Pondering…

I saw them first many Novembers ago and heard their triumphant trumpet calls, a hundred or more sandhill cranes riding south on a thermal above the Rio Grande Valley, and that day their effortless flight and their brassy music got into my soul.

—Charles Kuralt

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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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Human Encounters with Bears Turn Deadly

Recent media reports detail numerous human encounters with black bears.

This black bear wants his food and he is waiting patiently. DO NOT FEED BEARS! (Source: Thomas J/travelooce.com)
This black bear wants his food and he is waiting patiently. DO NOT FEED BEARS! (Source: Thomas J/travelooce.com)

In most instances the bears became food-conditioned, lost their natural fear of humans, and become a threat as they roamed in search of an easy meal. These bear was either relocated or euthanized by rangers because they posed an obvious human safety risk to campers.

Several samples of these reports follow.

Black Bear Killed at Yellowstone Campground

The Bozeman Daily Chronicle reports that a black bear that refused to leave a Yellowstone National Park campground after getting a taste of human food there was killed by park staff.

The 142-pound adult male black bear entered the Canyon Campground and came within six feet of a man and woman eating.

The campers backed off, and the bear ate some of the food off their table. It then went through their garbage and pawed at their tent.

As the bear left their campsite, it checked out tents, fire pits and bear-proof trash bins, and food-storage boxes at other campsites.

Rangers hazed the bear out of the campground, but it returned later in the day. Out of a concern for safety, the bear was shot and killed later that night.

Bear Aggression at Colorado Campgrounds

Remember: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture)
Remember: A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear (Courtesy: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

The Aspen Times reported that a bear tried to break into a car less than 30 feet from a campsite, and set the car alarm off five times in one evening. The next day, a large black bear broke into a car in the Difficult day-use parking lot with several people watching. The bear bent a door and broke a window before leaving the lot with a bag of marshmallows in its mouth.

“People need to remember that black bears are smart, wild, and very strong,” said Roy Schoepf, a Difficult Campground camp host.

“The bear we’ve been seeing pushed over all four of our bear-proof dumpsters on one visit. They’re fearless and can do a lot of damage if they want.”

There have been multiple bear sightings at the Difficult Campground, as well as several surrounding campsites.

The public needs to be aware that dealing with bears is serious business and caution must be taken at every level.

Colorado has a “two-strike” policy under which bears may be tranquilized, ear-tagged, and relocated once if they are in an inappropriate location or they have engaged in episode(s) of “nuisance” behavior. If that same bear has to be physically dealt with again (tranquilized or trapped due to inappropriate location or nuisance behavior), the bear is put down. Bears that pose a public safety risk will be put down regardless of whether they have ear tags or not.

Bears are territorial and get into a habit of returning to where they find food.

Black Bear Killed at New Mexico State Park Campground

MyHighPlains reports that New Mexico Department of Game and Fish officers trapped and killed a black bear after it tore open a tent with two campers inside in the Lake Alice Campground at Sugarite Canyon State Park near Raton.

The women in the tent were able to escape uninjured and set off their car alarm, which scared the bear away.

Department officers who responded to the call said the bear apparently was attracted to the campground by birdfeeders hung by campers. The bear went from campsite to campsite, knocking over birdfeeders and grills before raiding the women’s tent.

The women did not have any food in their tent. Most other campers in the campground were sleeping in camp trailers.

The black bear has an acute sense of hearing and smell but has relatively poor eyesight. (Source: oklahomawildlifecontrol.com)
The black bear has an acute sense of hearing and smell but has relatively poor eyesight. (Source: oklahomawildlifecontrol.com)

The bear was killed because it posed an obvious human safety risk to future tent campers.

“We can’t emphasize this enough: When you are camping, don’t put up birdfeeders or leave any other food sources out that may attract bears or other wildlife,” Conservation Officer Clint Henson said.

“In this case, putting out birdfeeders put everyone in that campground at risk and resulted in the bear’s death.”

Bighorn National Forest Visitors Urged to be Bear Aware

A USDA Forest Service news release reports that Wyoming Game & Fish Department game warden trapped a black bear in the Bighorn National Forest.

The 4-year-old male bear had received a food reward from a camper in the Dayton Gulch area earlier that morning. That evening, the bear returned for more. The bear was euthanized.

Please Note: This is Part 1 of a two-part series on Bears and Bear Safety.

Part 2: Being Bear Aware

Worth Pondering…

In many cultures, the bear was looked upon with such reverence that members of the culture were not allowed to speak the word for “bear “. Instead, they referred to the animal with varied and creative euphamisms. Several names were used by the Navajo and other native groups—Fine Young Chief, He Who Lives in the Den, and Reared in the Mountains.

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