Central Vermont: Montpelier, Burlington & Barre

Quaint to quirky, this state has it all. Vermont is predominately rural with mountains, villages, and a few small cities. From the Green Mountains to the Connecticut River on the east to Lake Champlain to the northwest, Vermont has much to attract the RVer.

The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The intense green forests are studded with colorful bursts of summer flowers. Central Vermont, from Burlington to the Montpelier area, offers many interesting and delicious attractions to RVers.

Montpelier, the smallest capital in America with a population under 8,000 people, is a charming historic town with the largest urban historic district in Vermont. It is readily accessible from I-89 which runs from the southeast corner of the state to the northwest.

The crown jewel is the impeccably restored State House. The gold leaf dome includes real gold and offers a spectacular contrast with the wooded hillside of Hubbard Park in the background.

Guided tours are available free of charge. Next door to the capitol, the Vermont Historical Society Museum is a must for history buffs.

Montpelier is a walking city. The heart of the downtown is three blocks from the State House. Downtown Montpelier is a vibrant center of interesting, independently owned shops and restaurants. It is also home to the New England Culinary Institute, which operates three restaurants—NECI on Main, Dewey Cafe, and La Brioche Bakery & Café—with irresistible delights in this eclectic New England town.

The Rock of Ages granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rock of Ages granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s plenty of beautiful countryside to see around Montpelier and a number of interesting tours nearby.

About 7 miles southeast of the state capital is Barre, known as the Granite Center of the World. Its downtown, with several prominent sculptures and granite faced buildings, reflects that heritage. Its famed quarries at the edge of town are sprawling and spectacular with an estimated 4,500-year supply of Barre Gray granite still to be quarried out of the surrounding hills.

The Rock of Ages which claims to be the world’s largest granite quarry is laced with a 15-mile network of cables and derricks to hoist the slabs up to 250 tons out from the depths. Climb aboard a shuttle bus for a guided tour of the quarry and watch the process of mining granite. From behind a wire fence, gaze down at the 600-foot-deep quarry. In the quarry, workers and machines drill, split, explode, and lift massive blocks of granite. Watching steel derricks hoist the blocks from the deep quarry is quite a sight.

After the impressive quarry tour, head inside for a self-guided tour of the manufacturing plant where you can watch granite artisans working on everything from large mausoleums to tombstones and small memorial markers. The precision cutting, laser etching, and other sculpting techniques are fascinating to watch.

After the Rock of AGes quarry tour, head inside for a self-guided tour of the manufacturing plant where you can watch granite artisans at work. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
After the Rock of AGes quarry tour, head inside for a self-guided tour of the manufacturing plant where you can watch granite artisans at work. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Burlington, Vermont’s largest city, is situated on the east side of Lake Champlain and, like Montpelier, is accessible from I-89. Burlington’s waterfront is home to parks, a walking/bike path, fine restaurants, ferry crossings, and cruise boats.

The core of this vibrant city’s downtown is the Church Street Marketplace, a pedestrian mall filled with over 100 retail shops, boutiques, cafes, and craft vendors.

The sweetest tour in town, Lake Champlain Chocolates has been making fresh, small batch chocolates on Pine Street since 1983. They offer free factory tours Monday to Friday from June to October, 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.; tours start on the hour and self-guided tours start at 3:00 p.m. On the weekends, free chocolate tastings are available between 11:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. Learn the flavor profiles of four different chocolates with a chance to win a free chocolate gift basket. Lake Champlain Chocolates features caramels, clusters, truffles, almond butter crunch and much more—including lots of factory seconds and free samples.

The Shelburne Museum is a unique American treasure, a sprawling complex of three dozen relocated buildings including a covered bridge, round barn, a lighthouse, and huge 220-foot dry docked paddlewheel steam-powered lake boat. Inside, the 39 galleries house an eclectic collection of art, Americana, architecture, and artifacts.

Ships, lighthouses, whole barns—you name it, it’s here. There’s so much to see that the entry ticket is valid for two days.

200 years of family tradition help make Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks the best maple syrup we've tasted. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
200 years of family tradition help make Morse Farm Maple Sugarworks the best maple syrup we’ve tasted. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This amazing collection just south of Burlington was started just over 50 years ago by Electra Havenmeyer Webb, and it just keeps on growing. Today, it covers 45 acres and 37 buildings and contains some of the best collections of Americana in the country. Kids love the big stuff, like the 220-foot steamship. Serious collectors gravitate to the weathervanes, toys, and tools.

Worth Pondering…

Pennies in a stream
Falling leaves, a sycamore
Moonlight in Vermont
—lyrics by John M. Blackburn; music by Karl Suessdorf; recorded by Ella Fitzerald, Jo Stafford, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Willie Nelson, and others

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Marietta: Ohio’s First City & Historic River Town

Ever since the 1882 arrival of Marquis de Lafayette, widely considered to be Marietta, Ohio’s first tourist, this charming river town has been rolling out the welcome mat for visitors.

Take an escorted tour of the W. P. Snyder Jr., a 1918 steam-powered "pool-type" stern-wheeled towboat. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Take an escorted tour of the W. P. Snyder Jr., a 1918 steam-powered “pool-type” stern-wheeled towboat. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its outstanding museums, river cruises, and historic attractions, it’s easy to understand why it is such a popular destination for travelers.

Located at the confluence of the Ohio and Muskingum rivers, it’s not surprising that Marietta has a strong river heritage. It also has a prominent place in Ohio history as both the state’s and the Northwest Territory’s first organized permanent settlement, founded in 1788. It was once considered the “Gateway to the West” for travelers from the East seeking land and new opportunities.

Glance at what this lovely river town offers with a narrated 90-minute trolley tour, which meanders past numerous landmarks and heritage sites. Tours depart from the Levee House Cafe on the corner of Ohio and Second streets from July through October. While a great place for lunch or dinner, the structure also has historical significance. Built in 1826 for a dry goods merchant, it later became a hotel, then a tavern, and today is the town’s only remaining riverfront building.

Schafer Leather Store was established in 1867 and has progressed from the local harness shop to a unique, diversified store offering a variety of quality merchandise. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Schafer Leather Store was established in 1867 and has progressed from the local harness shop to a unique, diversified store offering a variety of quality merchandise. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a stroll across the Harmar Pedestrian, an old B&O Railroad bridge over the Muskingum River that links the downtown shopping area with Historic Harmar Village. This where Fort Harmar was established in 1785 as a garrison for US soldiers. Today it’s a neighborhood of brick streets (seven miles of original brick street—more than any other Ohio town) and quaint buildings housing crafts and antique shops, and several museums.

Stop by the memory-laden Marietta Soda Museum and view a fun collection of vintage soda-related items including soda machines, coolers, and advertising signs and gimmicks. Sit at a 1950s soda fountain and order a hot dog, a malt, or chocolate-cherry Coke.

Complete your trip down nostalgia lane with a browse through the Children’s Toy and Doll Museum a few steps away. Located in a restored 1889 Queen Anne style home, the museum hosts an impressive collection of antique dolls and vintage toys from around the world. Highlights include a reproduction carousel horse and Circus Room featuring dioramas and circus-related miniatures including animals, tents, and circus trains.

For over 65 years, Mahone Tire Service has served the entire Mid Ohio Valley with the best tires and tire services. © Rex Vogel, all rights
For over 65 years, Mahone Tire Service has served the entire Mid Ohio Valley with the best tires and tire services. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Head back across the river and stroll Front Street. Boutique-style shops are filled with artisan jewelry, collectibles, antiques, quilts and fabrics, confections, furnishings, gifts, fine clothing, and craft brews.

The aroma of craftsmanship permeates a leather goods store that has been in operation since 1867. Yes, you can still haggle over a harness for your buckboard. Schafer Leather Store has progressed from the local harness shop to a unique, diversified store offering a variety of quality merchandise including, jewelry, handbags, wallets, belts, men’s and ladies’ clothing, hats, buckles, bolo ties, and over 3,000 pairs of men’s, ladies’, and children’s boots.

The fascinating story of the birth and growth of Marietta, Ohio’s first city, is told in two outstanding museums, Campus Martius and the Ohio River Museum. Both will immerse you in the days when America’s rivers were her highways.

The Campus Martius Museum preserves the history of America’s migration west, its earliest native inhabitants, and Marietta’s pioneers. The museum named for the fort was built on the site in 1788 by the Ohio Company of Associates was erected over the Rufus Putnam House. The Ohio Company Land Office, the oldest known building in Ohio, was also moved to the museum site.

The boutique-style shops on Front Street are filled with artisan jewelry, collectibles, antiques, quilts and fabrics, confections, furnishings, gifts, fine clothing, and craft brews.  © Rex Vogel, all rights
The boutique-style shops on Front Street are filled with artisan jewelry, collectibles, antiques, quilts and fabrics, confections, furnishings, gifts, fine clothing, and craft brews. © Rex Vogel, all rights

The Ohio River Museum consists of three exhibit buildings, the first chronicling the origins and the rich lore of the area’s waterways. The history of the steamboat on the Ohio River system is featured in the second building, along with a video presentation on river steamboats. The last building features displays about boat building and tool and equipment from the steamboat era. Take an escorted tour of the W. P. Snyder Jr., a 1918 steam-powered “pool-type” stern-wheeled towboat.

After your museum visit, enjoy a 90-minute scenic cruise on the Ohio River aboard the Valley Gem, a working sternwheeler docked next door to the Ohio River Museum. What better way to fully appreciate a true river town than to see it from the river?

Worth Pondering…

I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.

—William Shakespeare

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Using Campgrounds As Base Camps For Annual Festivals

Campgrounds are great places to enjoy hiking, biking, swimming, boating, and other outdoor recreation activities during your leisure time.

Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fort Edmonton Park, Edmonton, Alberta © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With RV and tent sites as well as a wide range of accommodations, campgrounds can also serve as base camps for those interested in attending annual summer festivals throughout the U.S and Canada. These events range from rodeos to music festivals and cultural to culinary happenings.

Following is a sampling of the annual festivals that take place during the coming weeks and months, along with listings of nearby attractions and campgrounds and RV parks, many of which also have rental accommodations.

All parks included have been personally visited with a minimum of one night of paid camping.

Alberta: Edmonton Heritage Festival, Edmonton, August 1-3, 2015

2015 will mark the 40th annual of the Servus Heritage Festival”—a three-day showcase of Canada’s vibrant multicultural heritage. Approximately 60 pavilions representing over eighty-five cultures will be part of this exciting celebration. Enjoy delicious cultural food, wonderful creative performances, lots of crafts, artwork, clothing, and plenty of opportunities to chat with people eager to talk about their cultural roots and their communities in Canada.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: West Edmonton Mall, Elk Island National Park, Fort Edmonton Park, Muttart Conservatory

Recommended RV Park: Glowing Embers RV Park, Acheson, Alberta

Amish horse and buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Amish horse and buggy © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Indiana: 53rd Annual Amish Acres Arts & Crafts Festival, Nappanee, August 6-9, 2015

More than 300 vendors from across the country will ply their trade and sell their wares around the historic farm’s pond.

Farm wagon rides, marionettes and magic shows, family-style Threshers Dinner in the century-old barn restaurant, and guided house and farm tours intertwine the festival and farm attractions. Free entertainment on four stages is planned throughout the four days along with festive food concoctions.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: The Round Barn Theatre, Amish Acres, Das Dutchman Essenhaus, Quilt Gardens Tour, Newmar Factory Tour

Recommended RV Park: Pla-Mor Campground, Bremen, Indiana

Alberta: GlobalFest, Calgary, August 20-29, 2015

Known as Calgary’s second largest annual festival, GlobalFest attracts more than 100,000 visitors from around the world. GlobalFest is the umbrella organization for the OneWorld and Trico Homes International Fireworks Festivals.

The OneWorld Festival presents diversity through music and dance, food and drink, and arts and crafts. It boasts a Tipi Village, cultural pavilions, ethnic food, performance stages, a night market, and a children’s village. The Trico Homes International Fireworks Festival will present five nights of pyromusical beauty.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: Calgary Zoo, Heritage Park Historical Village, Canada Olympic Park, Royal Tyrrell Museum of Palaeontology

Recommended RV Park: Mountain View Camping, Calgary, Alberta

New Mexico: SalsaFest! Las Cruces, August 29-30, 2015

Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Mesilla © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spice up your tour with SalsaFest! a signature of Las Cruces. SalsaFest! serves up some of the most creative samples. Join nearly 10,000 locals who attend to sample sauces made from scratch by professional and amateur teams.

SalsaFest! also features salsa music, the Best-Dressed Chihuahua contest, an excellent assortment of food and Mexican beers, crafts, and people watching. When things heat up, grab a shady seat, sip a cold beverage or slurp a snow cone, relax, and enjoy the view.

Named a Top 100 Event in North America by the American Bus Association.

Nearby Attractions: White Sands National Monument, Historic Mesilla, New Mexico Farm & Ranch Heritage Museum, Historic Mesilla

Recommended RV Park: Hacienda RV Resort, Las Cruces, New Mexico

Worth Pondering…

Without new experiences, something inside of us sleeps. The sleeper must awaken.

—Frank Herbert

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4 Best National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. In an earlier post, Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers. Following are the four best national parks for RVers.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Far West Texas, along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, there’s a magical place with a great deal of silence, beauty, and space—creating an ideal habitat for the turkeys, javelinas, roadrunners, and coyotes.

The 801,000-acre park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and two Mexican states. But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars. The park bisects one of North America’s most significant deserts, the Chihuahuan, creating an abundance of variety.

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

But for an intimate look at the kivas and actual living accommodations take the 15-minute hike from the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to Spruce Tree House. If you would like to explore Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House guided by a ranger, stop by the Far View Visitor Center for information and tour tickets.

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills. But if you want one of the 15 full-hookup sites, reservations are a must.

Zion National Park, Utah

A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A prominent feature of the 229-square-mile park is Zion Canyon, which is 15 miles long and up to half a mile deep, cut through the reddish and tan-colored Navajo Sandstone by the North Fork of the Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Follow the paths where ancient native people and Mormon pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon.

Catch a shuttle for Zion Canyon, the only vehicular means by which you can access this gorgeous area in the summer. And as you progress, soak up the splendor offered by the Court of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Sinawava with their secluded hiking trails.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Situated at 7,890 feet above sea level, the Lava Point Campground (6 primitive sites) is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. It takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes to drive to the campground from the South Entrance of Zion Canyon.

There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Private RV parks are also available near the park’s entrances.

Death Valley National Park, California

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

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Death Valley offers six campgrounds suitable for most RVs: Furnace Creek (136 sites, a few full hookups), Stovepipe Wells Village (190 sites; 19 full hookups), Sunset (270 non-hookup sites), Texas Spring (92 non-hookup sites), Mesquite Spring (30 non-hookup sites), and Widrose (23 non-hookup sites). A high-clearance vehicle is required to access Thorndike (6 non-hookup sites; 7,400-foot elevation) and Mahogany Flat (10 non-hookup sites; 8,200-foot elevation).

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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Charleston: Deep South Charm

If you’re a history buff, you’ll love Charleston. Avid tourist? Charleston is the city for you. Lover of good food and charming scenery? Charleston has your number.

Historic Downtown Charleston has stood throughout Charleston’s history as the cultural capital of the South and is considered by many to be a living museum, with a wonderful variety of things to do and see. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Downtown Charleston has stood throughout Charleston’s history as the cultural capital of the South and is considered by many to be a living museum, with a wonderful variety of things to do and see. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Charleston is home to one of America’s most intact historic districts. Nestled along a narrow peninsula—where the Ashley and Cooper rivers meet and empty into the Atlantic Ocean—it exudes deep South charm. With very few tall buildings, Charleston instead offers quaint cobblestone roads, colonial structures, a unique culture, and gobs of history.

Known as the Holy City, it was one of the most religiously tolerant cities in the New World—the results of which can be seen in the many striking church steeples that rise majestically over the city’s skyline.

Charleston also has a collection of some of the oldest and most impressive churches in America, including the French Protestant (Huguenot) Church, The Old Bethel Methodist Church, St. John’s Lutheran Church, St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, and the Mt. Zion A.M.E. Church.

More than 300 years ago, Charleston was originally named in honor of King Charles II of England. Charles Towne, as it was known, was founded in 1670 at Albmarle Point, a spot just across the Ashley River. Since that time it has played host to some of the most historic events in US history, including the first major battle of the American Revolution, and the start of the Civil War.

Known as the Holy City, it was one of the most religiously tolerant cities in the New World—the results of which can be seen in the many striking church steeples that rise majestically over the city's skyline. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Known as the Holy City, it was one of the most religiously tolerant cities in the New World—the results of which can be seen in the many striking church steeples that rise majestically over the city’s skyline. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Perhaps the best known Charleston landmark is Fort Sumter, where the Civil War began on April 12, 1861. At that time, Union forces occupied the strategic Fort at the entrance of Charleston harbor. The South demanded that Fort Sumter be vacated, the Union army refused, and the rest is history. After a two-day bombardment, the North surrendered the Fort to the South. Nearby, visitors can also tour Fort Moultrie, which also played heavily in Civil War significance.

Perhaps the best way to see this town is by foot. Around every corner visitors can discover another hidden garden, great restaurants, historic houses, quaint shops, and friendly people.

A walk down any of Charleston’s quaint avenues, especially in the area designated as The Battery, is a walk back in time. Many houses date from the 1700s and 1800s, and a large number of these are listed in the National Register of Historic Places. Visitors can tour more than a dozen of these homes, including the Heyward-Washington House, built in 1772. This house was owned by Thomas Heyward Jr., a Revolutionary patriot and signer of the Declaration of Independence. It was also George Washington’s temporary residence during his Southern Tour of 1791.

Charleston lends itself to walking and many visitors find this to be a  convenient way to see everything the city has to offer. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Charleston lends itself to walking and many visitors find this to be a
convenient way to see everything the city has to offer. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Other houses of note that visitors can tour in Charleston include the Aiken Rhett House, one of the most intact building complexes showcasing urban life in Antebellum Charleston; the Joseph Manigault House, a premier example of neo-classical architecture built in 1803; and the Nathaniel Russell House, a neoclassical mansion considered one of America’s premier Federal townhouses.

Just outside of town, you can visit a number of Southern plantations, including Boone Hall and Drayton Hall. Boone Hall’s world-famous Avenue of Oaks leads to the Plantation house and gardens, and its original slave street and slave quarters. Located a stone’s throw from Boone Hall is the Charles Pinckney National Historic Site and historic Snee Farms. Pinckney was an original signer of the US Constitution, and was very influential in the document’s language. Drayton Hall, built between 1738 and 1742, is the oldest preserved plantation house in America.

While touring Charleston the campground at James Island County Park served as our home base. An ideal location amidst scenic beauty and an amazing drive-through display of Christmas lights, the 643-acre park is convenient to downtown Charleston and the South Carolina Lowcountry, and the campground provides a round-trip shuttle service to the city’s visitor center.

Beautiful homes, churches, and public buildings line the city’s tree-lined streets. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Beautiful homes, churches, and public buildings line the city’s tree-lined streets. © Rex Vogel, all rights

The park itself makes a fun destination. Miles of paved trails wind through forests and Palmetto trees and skirt by marshes and tidal creeks. Bicycle rentals are available, as are pedal boats and kayak rentals for its 16 acres of lakes.

Worth Pondering…

If you lead a good life,

go to church,

and say your prayers,

you’ll go to Charleston

when you die.

—old South Carolina saying

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My Love Affair With RV Travel in America

“What’s your favorite place to go?”

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 along the Skyline Drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course that’s what they ask. It’s the polite thing to ask, after all. People like to seem as if they’re interested in what you do. In this case, the question also always has a twinge of yearning.

I always give the same answer. I find something I like nearly everywhere I go, and it’s hard to pick just one place.

People hate that answer.

“Come on. If you could pick just one place, where would you want to go again? Just one place.”

They all want to hear something exotic, aspirational, and bucket-listy. They want to hear Key West or Santa Barbara, the Grand Canyon or Yellowstone. They don’t want the truth. Can they handle the truth?

The truth is, we have visited 34 states and 4 Canadian provinces during the past 17 years, and found something that we adored in every one of them.

Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Route 66, also known as the Will Rogers Highway and colloquially known as the Main Street of America or the Mother Road, was one of the original highways within the U.S. Highway System and continues to captivate people around the world. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our decade and half of RV travel stoked a love affair with American and Canadian attractions and historic sites, local towns and cities, scenic routes and byways, and national and state/provincial parks.

I did begin rereading John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley — an incredible account of the America that he experienced on his road trip around the country with his wife’s standard poodle as a companion. Steinbeck was 58 years old in 1960 when he began his journey, and he felt compelled to get out and really see the country for the first time in a long time. He said he felt like a criminal writing about a country that he didn’t know enough about anymore.

In the words of photographer Diane Arbus, “My favorite thing is to go where I have never been.” And so it is with us.

Taking your RV on the open road and experiencing breathtaking views along the way can make for the one-of-a-kind vacation your family is looking for. It is the journey and not the destination that is the joy of the RV lifestyle.

Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Highways can guide you along the coast to take in ocean views at sunset. Others wind you through the mountains exploring history.

The US and Canada are brimming with beautiful and diverse routes from the glittering waters of the Pacific to the majestic Rocky Mountains and down to the mysterious swamps of the South.

You don’t have to drive far to find a great road—just about everyone has a favorite route in their part of the country.

Here’s a little secret: You can’t go wrong with the Blue Ridge Parkway or a Route 66 road trip. Scenic and historic, both routes have a little bit of everything. We explain, starting with Route 66.

Route 66: 2,448 Miles

If you’re looking for great displays of neon signs, mom-and-pop motels in the middle of nowhere, or kitschy Americana, do as the song says and “get your kicks on Route 66.”

Antique cars parked along Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Along Route 66, antique cars are parked at Wigwam Village Motel in Holbrook, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing speaks more to the history and ingenuity of the United States than U.S. Route 66. Beginning in the Windy City, this legendary old road passes through the heart of the United States on a diagonal trip that takes in some of the country’s most archetypal roadside scenes, ending in the land of golden dreams. Chicago’s mighty skyscrapers give way to the Ozarks, eventually leading into the grassy plains of Oklahoma and Kansas. From here you’ll travel into a world of surreal sights: the desert murals of the Southwest and the sandy beaches of California.

Route 66 passes through a marvelous cross-section of American scenes, from the cornfields of Illinois all the way to the golden sands and sunshine of Los Angeles, passing by such diverse environs as the Grand Canyon, the Native American communities of the desert Southwest, the small-town Midwest heartlands of Oklahoma and the Ozarks, as well as the gritty streets of St. Louis and Chicago.

Whether you are motivated by an interest in history, feel a nostalgic yearning for the “good old days” Route 66 has come to represent, or simply want to experience firsthand the amazing diversity of people and landscapes that line its path, Route 66 offers an unforgettable journey into America, then and now.

Blue Ridge Parkway: 469 Miles

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).

Worth Pondering…

I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list.

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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.

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Mining, Ranching, Birding & More In Patagonia, Arizona

Our narrative begins about 60 miles southeast of Tucson in a small historic mining town that still holds claim to a huge treasure—the birding kind.

On the road to Patagonia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
On the road to Patagonia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At an elevation of over 4,000 feet between the Santa Rita Mountains and the Patagonia Mountains, you arrive in the town of Patagonia. Here, the South Pacific Railroad once hummed with cattle ranchers and prospectors who worked the nearby silver mine. Ranches still dot the hills and historic ghost towns have replaced thriving mining outposts.

At first glance Patagonia is a town that you pass through on the way to somewhere else. However, a second glance will reveal some surprises about this historical former Spanish land grant. There is a growing community of artists and crafts people that have decided that this is a very desirable area to live and work.

Although the rail tracks were abandoned by 1970, the depot is now restored and adjoins a park in the center of town. McKeown Avenue is Patagonia’s authentic but small main street, housing the local saloon and shops.

Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights
Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Patagonia is home to several arts and multicultural festivals throughout the year and also has numerous galleries here you can browse local pottery and paintings as well as other contemporary and traditional arts.

Chances are you’re here for Patagonia’s other side—the one that draws thousands of birders each year. Look closely, because this is the time of year when butterflies linger and more than 300 bird species migrate, nest, and live in Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, managed by the Nature Conservancy since 1966. Bird enthusiasts come thousands of miles to catch a glimpse of some of them. Of particular interest are the gray hawk, vermilion flycatcher, violet-crowned hummingbird, thick-billed kingbird, zone-tailed hawk, green kingfisher, white-throated sparrows (in winter), and black-bellied whistling duck.

You’re in luck: Now through September draws the greatest diversity of birds to what the Nature Conservancy dubs “the richest of the remaining riparian (or streamside) habitats in the region.”

Swimming and picnic area at Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights
Swimming and picnic area at Patagonia State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights

The 850-acre sanctuary is where a cottonwood-willow canopy follows the ribbon of gentle Sonoita Creek, which runs year-long. You can opt for a guided tour of the preserve or you can head to the open-air ramada visitor center to study maps, peruse a list of the latest bird sightings, and get suggestions from the ranger to shape your own visit.

Three miles of easy walking trails take you along Sonoita Creek and through rare, 140-year old cottonwood willow forest.

A trip to Patagonia would not be complete without a visit to the Paton Center for Hummingbirds. Wally and Marion Paton first began inviting birders into their yard shortly after moving to Patagonia in 1973. They eventually put up a canopy and set out benches, bird books, and a chalkboard for people to record their sightings. The Patons had a special vision for supporting their backyard birds with an array of feeding stations—and supporting the wider birding community by sharing the riches of their yard. After Wally passed away in 2001 and Marion in 2009, the birding community was left with an inspiring legacy upon which to build.

212 bird species have been reported for this cozy home lot on the outskirts of the town of Patagonia, including violet-crowned hummingbirds, thick-billed kingbirds, gray hawks, and varied buntings. This amazing diversity results from its location in an ecologically rich and healthy corner of the state. Surrounding the Paton Center you will find: The Nature Conservancy’s Patagonia-Sonoita Creek Preserve, the Patagonia Mountains (one of Arizona’s newly declared Important Bird Areas), the San Rafael Grasslands, and the Sonoita Plain.

Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights
Sonoita Creek Natural Area © Rex Vogel, all rights

Continuing south on Arizona Highway 82 is Patagonia Lake State Park, a small paradise for wildlife and outdoor enthusiasts. Fishermen and beachcombers enjoy a man-made lake more than two miles in length. At an elevation of 3,750 feet and adjacent to the Sonoita Creek Natural Area, the park becomes a year-round haven with 105 campsites with a picnic table, a fire ring/grill, water, and 20/30/50-amp electric service; select sites also have a ramada. A dump station is centrally located in the park.

Patagonia Lake offers a 0.5-mile hiking trail that leads to Sonoita Creek, a popular birding area. Additional trails can be accessed through Sonoita Creek Natural Area.

Worth Pondering…
I only went for a walk, and finally concluded to stay till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.
—John Muir

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What Is Birding?

If you had asked me a decade ago about birding, I would have said, “What is birding?”

Pair Yellow-crowned Night Herons at the Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
Pair Yellow-crowned Night Herons at the Valley Nature Center, Weslaco, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

I knew about some of the more common birds including chickadees, robins, finches, and blue jays, but had no idea birding was an activity people did together in an organized fashion.

Birding has become one of the fastest-growing and most popular activities in the US and around the world. An estimated 30 percent of all Americans go birding each year.

Bird watching is also one of the few activities open to all ages and levels of ability.

It doesn’t take much to get started in bird watching. You don’t need special hiking boots or clothing and you don’t require special equipment. Birds can be observed with the naked eye, although a pair of binoculars makes the experience more enjoyable.

Using one or more field guides is also recommended. The choice of a field guide for birding can be a very personal thing. Partly it depends on what you want from your field guide; partly on how you process information.

Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
Scrub Jay at Catalina State Park near Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

The Sibley Guide to Birds is THE North American bird book if you’re a serious birder. The volume covers all the birds, and most of the plumages of all the birds you can find in the US and Canada.

Kaufmann Field Guide to Birds of North America is also THE guide to own. The text is clear and the illustrations are very well done.

According to a US Fish & Wildlife Service study on the demographics and economic impact of birding, birdwatchers contribute over 36 billion dollars annually to the nation’s economy. One in five Americans has an active interest in birding. Some 47 million bird watchers, ages 16 and older, spend nearly $107 billion on travel and equipment related to bird watching.

In Washington State alone, wildlife viewing and photography adds more than $5 billion each year to the state and local economy.

Roseate Spoonbill feeding at South Padre Island World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
Roseate Spoonbill feeding at South Padre Island World Birding Center, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

About 88 percent focus mainly on backyard birding. But some extreme listers travel extensively in search of rare birds for their life lists.

The legendary birder Phoebe Snetsinger became obsessed with bird watching when she learned she had only one year to live—she was diagnosed with terminal melanoma in 1981. Living another 18 years, she fervently observed birds across the globe setting a world record of 8,398 bird species before her death in a 1999 car accident in Madagascar.

Others, like master birder Connie Sidles, find endless joy in daily visits to one favorite spot. She has written two books describing the natural beauty and wonder she finds at the Montlake Fill (Union Bay Natural Area), a premier birding oasis in Seattle. The “fill” is a former landfill located in the heart of northeast Seattle on the banks of Lake Washington.

People give different answers when asked what drew them to bird watching. For most, it starts with the simple aesthetic pleasure of enjoying the grace and beauty of birds and sharing the experience with family and friends.

Wood Stork at Long Point Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
Wood Stork at Long Point Park, Florida © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Wildlife viewing is among the most popular forms of outdoor recreation, and birds are the most visible and accessible form of wildlife, especially in urban and residential areas. You can even enjoy them from the comfort of your own home.

Birds also symbolize freedom for many because they fly with such ease. For some, it has spiritual qualities and evokes feelings of peace and tranquility. It’s healthful and restful and no doubt good for your blood pressure and general well-being.

Their exquisite plumage and vivacious songs enliven our sense of the magnificence and beauty of the world we share. Our love affair with birds connects us with the simple bliss of being alive and feeling at home in the natural world.

Like many pursuits, birding embraces a whole subculture, with many levels of expertise and intensity. For some, it is highly competitive. For others, bird watching involves serious study of physiology, behavior, and the role of birds in the ecosystem.

For many, like us, it’s a pathway into the natural world by combining photography and RV travel with birding.

As a birder, I want to find and enjoy new birds, observe their behavior, and document what I see. As a photographer, I want to photograph birds in good light and a pleasing background, and above all return to my motorhome with quality photos.

Worth Pondering…

Have you ever observed a hummingbird moving about in an aerial dance among the flowers—a living prismatic gem…. it is a creature of such fairy-like loveliness as to mock all description.

—W.H. Hudson, Green Mansion

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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.

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