Blue Ridge Parkway: The Road Most Traveled

Spanning 469 miles through 29 counties, the Blue Ridge Parkway takes travelers along the Appalachian Mountains through Virginia and North Carolina providing a unique view of foliage and history.

The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America's favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America’s favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Construction of the parkway began in 1935 as a public works offspring of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The project helped the economically depressed people of the Appalachians. Hand-cut stone archways, fences, bridges, and tunnels line many parts of the road, framing spectacular views of the mountains.

One of the most scenic roads in America, the parkway connects Shenandoah National Park with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. It starts at Rockfish Gap, Virginia, intersecting Skyline Drive, and winds southwest through Virginia into mountainous western North Carolina. Drivers marvel at the picturesque views along the route of the Black Mountains, Great Craggies, Pisgahs, Great Balsams, and the Great Smokies.

Drivers marvel at the picturesque views along the route of the Black Mountains, Great Craggies, Pisgahs, Great Balsams, and the Great Smokies. Along the way, travelers will find campgrounds and hiking trails, glimpses of small-town Appalachian life. Like a living museum, the parkway is filled with the history of its unique, pioneering families. Mountain culture, music, and art is preserved throughout the region.

The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America's favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America’s favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each season along the Blue Ridge has its own beauty with pink wild rhododendrons lining the roadway and carpets of wildflowers filling the forests in spring and summer. Then, autumn brings a brilliant patchwork of red, yellow, rust, and green. Winter presents a completely different panorama of quiet, snowy landscapes.

Mabry Mill (milepost 176.1) is one of the parkway’s favorite attractions. Surrounded by outdoor interpretive displays, a millpond smooth as glass reflected the old mill. Both the blacksmith shop and then the grist mill were built by Ed Mabry sometime around 1910 and operated until 1935.

Near the Virginia/North Carolina state line, Cumberland Knob (milepost 217.5) is where construction of the Blue Ridge Parkway began. A visitor center offers a selection of publications about the parkway while the woodlands and open fields offer good hiking opportunities.

Further along the parkway, Moses H. Cone Memorial Park (milepost 294), preserves the country estate of Moses H. Cone, textile magnate, conservationist, and philanthropist of the Gilded Age. Its centerpiece is Flat Top Manor, a gleaming white 20-room, 13,000 square foot mansion built in 1901 in the grand Colonial Revival style.

The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America's favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The splendor of the Blue Ridge Mountains, America’s favorite drive. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Manor is now the home of the Parkway Craft Center, one of five shops of the Southern Highland Craft Guild which features handmade crafts by hundreds of regional artists.

Moses Cone’s interest in nature and conservation led him to plant extensive white pine forests and hemlock hedges, build several lakes stocked with bass and trout, and plant a 10,000-tree apple orchard.

The Linn Cove Viaduct (milepost 304), a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. It was completed in 1987 at a cost of $10 million and was the last section of the Blue Ridge Parkway to be finished. The Linn Cove Visitor Center is located at the south end of the Viaduct. You can read about the construction of the Viaduct and get general Parkway information.

You’ll find that you can easily spend a week or more exploring Asheville. The Blue Ridge Parkway headquarters is located here along with the parkway’s Folk Art Center which displays some of the finest arts and crafts of the region. Just southeast of town is the Biltmore Estate, an opulent 250-room French Renaissance mansion built by George Vanderbilt in 1895. Plan a full day to tour the house, gardens, and award-winning winery.

The Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Linn Cove Viaduct, a 1,243-foot concrete segmental bridge snakes around the slopes of Grandfather Mountain. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cradle of Forestry (milepost 411) is four miles south of the parkway on US Highway 276. The 6,500 acre Cradle of Forestry Historic Site commemorates the beginning of forest conservation in the United States. On this site in 1898, Dr. Carl Schenck, chief forester for George Vanderbilt’s Biltmore Estate, founded the Biltmore Forest School, the first forestry school in America. Outdoor activities include several guided trails which lead to historical buildings, a 1915 Climax logging locomotive, and an old sawmill.

The last 10 miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway passes through the Cherokee Indian Reservation and ends at the entrance to the Smoky Mountains National Park. While in Cherokee, visit the Cherokee Indian Museum and hear the moving story of the Cherokee Nation.

Worth Pondering…

Once in a lifetime, you see a place, and you know, instinctively, this is paradise.

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A Utah Road Trip: Natural Bridges, Moki Dugway, Valley of the Gods & More

It’s nearly impossible to drive any kind of distance in Utah without going through some spectacular countryside, no matter what route you choose.

Heading west from Blanding on SR-95 the landscape was vast, open and colorful. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Heading west from Blanding on SR-95 the landscape was vast, open and colorful. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

However, there is one drive a bit off the beaten path that is not nearly as well known as other scenic drives and designated scenic byways and yet is truly worthy of a day trip.

Starting this 130-mile journey from our home base at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, we drove our toad north on US-191 to Blanding, then took a left turn to head west on SR-95.

With every bend in the road, we found ourselves craning our necks to take in the stunning views. Enormous, patterned red rock walls lined the sides of the road, and mystical red rock formations rose up from the horizon and changed shape as we passed them by. The landscape was vast, open and colorful, and completely devoid of the human touch. Everywhere we looked, we felt inspired by the wondrous creations of a divine hand.

The road was first constructed in 1935 as a gateway from Blanding to Natural Bridges National Monument and remained unpaved through the 1960s. It wasn’t until the ’70s that portions of the road began to be paved. Yet, because it doesn’t link any major towns or cities, we found that as we passed by one glorious red rock vista after another on our way to Natural Bridges, there was rarely another vehicle on the road.

Several miles before reaching the national park gate we left SR-95, heading west on SR-275 to the park gate. Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area. It is rather remote and not close to other parks, and as a result is not heavily visited.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds). Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge.

Continuing our road trip, we retraced our route on SR-275 and SR-95, traveling south on SR-261 to Muley Point, Moki Dugway, and Valley of the Gods.

Before descending Moki Dugway, you may wish to stop at the fantastic vista at Muley Point. To reach Muley Point, take the first road to your right (west) at the top of the dugway. The Muley Point Overlook provides viewers with a panorama of the Goosenecks of the San Juan River, and the vast, sweeping valleys of the desert valley below.

Moki Dugway consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moki Dugway consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Also spelled Mokee, the term moki is deried from the Spanish word, moqui, a general term used by explorers in this region to describe Pueblo Indians they encountered as well as the vanished Ancestral puebloan culture. Dugway is a term used to describe a roadway carved from a hillside.

The Moki Dugway is a staggering, graded dirt switchback road carved into the face of the cliff edge of Cedar Mesa. It consists of three miles of steep, unpaved, but well graded switchbacks (11 percent grade), which wind 1,200 feet from Cedar Mesa to the Valley of the Gods below.

The Moki Dugway was constructed in the 1950s to provide a way to haul ore from the Happy Jack Mine on Cedar Mesa to the mill in Halchita, near Mexican Hat.

The State of Utah recommends that only vehicles less than 28 feet and 10,000 pounds attempt to negotiate the dugway. The remainder of US-261 is paved.

Valley of the Gods lies below the Moki Dugway overlook. You enter another environment as you descend from scrub forest to desert.

Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Valley of the Gods offers isolated buttes, towering pinnacles, and wide open spaces that seem to go on forever. A 17-mile dirt and gravel road winds through the valley near many of the formations. Short hikes are necessary to reach some, but most can be seen from the road. It is sandy and bumpy, with steep sections.

Days can be spent by anyone with a camera and time. As is usual in this stark landscape, morning and evening are the best times to take photos. The Valley of the Gods is full of long and mysterious shadows in the evening. The morning sun shines directly on the valley and its towers.

The road exits onto US-163 about 7.5 miles north of Mexican Hat. Pointing our toad east for 17 miles and we’ve back at our home base in Bluff.

Worth Pondering…

How strange that nature does not knock, and yet does not intrude!

—Emily Dickinson

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A State of Mind: Texas Hill Country

The Hill Country rises out of south-central Texas like an island out of a vast ocean. A large area of rolling hills and valleys with limestone canyons, clear-water rivers, and a few scattered small towns, the Hill Country is quite densely wooded. Prepare to be amazed.

Hanger on LBJ Ranh with Air Force One. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hanger on LBJ Ranh with Air Force One. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ideally situated off I-10 near Kerrville, Buckhorn Lake RV Resort is a perfect base from which to explore this wonderland of scenic vistas, oak-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and streams.

Located in the heart of Texas Hill Country, Buckhorn Lake Resort is just an hour drive from San Antonio. Each pad site is designed with large coaches in mind—they include widely paved pull-through sites and roads.

After arriving at Buckhorn Lake RV Resort we unhooked our dinghy and after setting up camp we ventured out.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RV, we explored Fredericksburg and the nearby Lady Bird Johnson Municipal Park, Wildseed Farms, and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area. In today’s post, we return to Fredericksburg and explore further afield including a detour or two.

The most famous detour of all is Luckenbach, population 25, reached by driving six miles east of town on U.S. 290, then turning south (right) on Ranch Road 1376; continue on this little road about four miles till you see signs. If you cross the creek, you’ve gone too far—maybe it’s time to stop and ask directions, as signs to Luckenbach just don’t last long, thanks to souvenir hunters.

These days Luckenbach, Texas is, to paraphrase John Steinbeck, a “State of Mind”—A Texas state of mind, where you can kick back, relax, and get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life—like a step back in time.

The Texas White House is open for public tours including the President's Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons' bedroom suites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Texas White House is open for public tours including the President’s Office, living room, dining room, and the Johnsons’ bedroom suites. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In 1849, a general store opened in Luckenbach, a town made famous by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson’s 1973 classic country hit, “Luckenbach Texas-Back to the Basics”. The store is still there with a bar, a dance hall for special events, and “prit near always” a jam session playing. Sometimes country stars make impromptu appearances, or there may be an armadillo race or horseshoe tournament going on.

Also nearby, east of Fredericksburg on Highway 290, is the not-to-be-missed Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park. The LBJ Ranch is in the heart of the Hill Country on the banks of the Pedernales River.

Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park tells the story of America’s 36th President beginning with his ancestors until his final resting place on his beloved LBJ Ranch. This entire “circle of life” gives the visitor a unique perspective into one of America’s most noteworthy citizens by providing the most complete picture of any American president.

Visitors are now able to tour the Ranch at their own pace in their private vehicle with the ability to stop at sites along the way such as the President’s birthplace, Johnson family cemetery, and the Johnson’s ranch house known as the Texas White House.

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park.

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

The park is unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

I am humbled by the forces of nature that continuously -mold our great state of Texas into a beautiful landscape complete with geological diversity, flora and fauna. It is my goal as a photographer to capture that natural beauty and share it with others.

—Chase A. Fountain

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Sculpted By Water: Natural Bridges National Monument

Natural Bridges National Monument covers a relatively small area in southeastern Utah. It is rather remote and not close to other parks, and as a result is not heavily visited.

Natural Bridges National Monument sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Natural Bridges National Monument sits high on Cedar Mesa, 6,500 feet above sea level. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since natural bridges are formed by running water, they are much rarer than arches, which result from a variety of other erosion forces. Natural bridges tend to be found within canyons, sometimes quite hidden, whereas arches are usually high and exposed, as they are often the last remnants of rock cliffs and ridges.

Unlike Arches National Park, with over 2,000 classified arches, there are only three natural bridges here. The area also has some scattered Indian cliff dwellings, pictographs, and scenic white sandstone canyons.

The pinyon and juniper covered mesa is bisected by deep canyons, exposing the Permian Age Cedar Mesa Sandstone. Where meandering streams cut through sandstone walls, three large natural bridges were formed.

At an elevation of 6,500 feet above sea level, Natural Bridges is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. Plants range from the fragile cryptobiotic soil crusts to remnant stands of Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Hanging gardens in moist canyon seep springs and numerous plants flower in the spring.

Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument. It is considered middle aged. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sipapu is the largest of the three bridges in the Monument. It is considered middle aged. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Animals range from a variety of lizards, toads, and an occasional rattlesnake, to peregrine falcons, mountain lions, bobcats, and black bear.

A nine mile one-way loop drive connects pull-outs and overlooks with views of the three huge multi-colored natural bridges with Hopi Indian names—Sipapu (the place of emergence), Kachina (dancer), and Owachomu (rock mounds).

Moderate hiking trails, some with metal stairs or wooden ladders, provide closer access to each bridge. An 8.6-mile hiking trail links the three natural bridges, which are located in two adjacent canyons.

To make the experience even more breathtaking, each natural bridge is accessed by a steep hike down to the base of the bridge and then back up again. Starting down the trail to Sipapu Bridge, we arrived at the first rough-hewn Navajo-looking log ladder, and scampered down. The trail to the Sipapu Bridge hugs a massive overhanging rock wall that Mother Nature has painted in wide swaths of black, orange, and pink. Considering the forces of wind and water that shaped these rocks, we couldn’t help but imagine the ancient people who once sought shelter here.

Sipapu Bridge is the second largest natural bridge in the world (only Rainbow Bridge in Glen Canyon is bigger). In Hopi mythology, a “sipapu” is a gateway through which souls may pass to the spirit world.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the "youngest" of the three because of the thickness of its span. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After admiring the bridge for a while, we made our way back up along the striped rock wall to the wooden ladders and on up to the loop road that winds through the park.

The second stone arch, Kachina Bridge, also requires hiking down stairways that have been carved into the sandstone by the National Park Service and clambering down log ladders as well.

Unlike Sipapu, however, Kachina is a thick and squat bridge that crosses a large cool wash filled with brilliant green shade trees.

A massive bridge Kachina is considered the “youngest” of the three because of the thickness of its span. The relatively small size of its opening and its orientation make it difficult to see from the overlook.

Along the flanks of this bridge we saw the faint etchings of petroglyphs that were pecked out of the rock eons ago. We were intrigued to learn that some of the cliff dwellers from the Mesa Verde area 150 miles away in Colorado had called this place home around 1200 A.D.

We got our workout once again as we huffed and puffed up the ladders and staircases back to the loop road.

Owachomo is the smallest and thinnest of the three natural bridges here and is commonly thought to be the oldest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Owachomo is the smallest and thinnest of the three natural bridges here and is commonly thought to be the oldest. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Owachomu Bridge is probably the most spectacular, and also the easiest stone bridge to reach. The trail into the canyon underneath the bridge is a short distance from the overlook. It is the oldest bridge in the park, and rock falls have reduced the thickness to only 9 feet, so it may not be here much longer. Needless to say, walking on top of the bridges is not allowed.

The visitor center is open year-round. It has a slide program, exhibits, publications, and postcards. A 13-site campground is open year-round on a first-come, first-served basis.

Worth Pondering…

One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.

—William Shakespeare

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Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 fee from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park's most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $25).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

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 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 Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

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Utah Scenic Byways Rock

Sampling the best of southwest Utah is simple. Just follow its network of scenic byways.

Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Utah’s vast wilderness draws outdoor enthusiasts from around the globe.

St. George has become one of the more popular retirement communities in the country. Located in extreme southwestern Utah, it has spectacular red rock bluffs overlooking the town, a mild climate in winter, and terrific recreational opportunities such as hiking in the nearby Zion National Park and many golf courses.

Heading north from St. George, Interstate 15 rises through the Pine Valley Mountains toward the storybook town of Cedar City. At exit 40 you can take a detour along the short Kolob Fingers Road Scenic Byway to the picturesque Zion Kolob Canyons. The best time to view the canyons is early morning.

The quiet town of Cedar City, also known as Festival City, is renowned for its old pioneer feel and the Utah Shakespearean Festival. Held in an outdoor theater, the 54-year festival hosts a variety of plays running from late June to late October.

From Cedar City the 40-mile-long Markagunt High Plateau Scenic Byway (Highway 14) climbs east through the Dixie National Forest’s thick stands of aspen and spruce to the top of 10,000-foot-high Markagunt Plateau. The byway then continues across Cedar Mountain to several points of interest including Navajo Lake, a favorite for fishing.

Panguitch Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Panguitch Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Going north on the Cedar Breaks Scenic Byway (Highway 148), you’ll find Cedar Breaks National Monument, a 3-mile-wide and 2,500-foot-deep chasm carved into the western ridge of the plateau. The amphitheater, especially when viewed in the morning or evening, glows with hues of orange, coral, rose and white. Small stands of bristlecone pines grow along the rim.

This natural amphitheater, with its highly hued sandstone walls and columns, inspired the Paiute name uncapi cunump or “circle of painted cliffs”.

A few miles north of the monument, the Brian Head-Panguitch Lake Scenic Byway (Highway 143) slices east across the plateau to Panguitch Lake, about 20 miles east of the Highway 148 turnoff.

Panguitch Lake is a popular summer and winter fishing spot and recreational area. Paiute for “big fish”, the lake is known for some of the largest rainbow trout in the state. The forests of the vast Markaugunt Plateau surrounding Panguitch Lake are brilliant with color during autumn, including yellow and orange-red aspen leaves. They have drawn photographers from all over the country. Seventeen miles northeast of the lake is the tiny farming community of Panguitch, the gateway to Bryce Canyon National Park.

Fishlake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fishlake Scenic Byway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving the “Land of Hoodoos” for another day, we meander north on Highway 89 along the banks of the Sevier River to Circleville, Butch Cassidy’s boyhood home.

Just north of Circleville, Highway 62 follows the Otter Creek River east before turning north near Otter Creek State Park Reservoir. The park offers year-round fishing and boating.

Skirting the Fishlake National Forest, Highway 62 ascends into the 11,000-foot-high Parker Range toward Burrville and the junction with the Capitol Reef Scenic Byway (Highway 24). About 10 miles southeast of the junction is the 27-mile-long Fishlake Scenic Byway (Highway 25) that loops around Fish Lake, another worthwhile detour. Surrounded by the 11,000-foot peaks of the Fish Lake Mountains, the cold, clear waters of this stunning mountain lake offer great trout-lake fishing.

The loop returns to Highway 24 at Loa, the small town named by Franklin W. Young after Hawaii’s famous Mauna Loa. Young lived on Hawaii’s Big Island for years before relocating to Utah. From Loa, Highway 24 sweeps southeast across the Awapa Plateau before descending  into Torrey, the gateway to Capitol Reef National Park.

The Paiutes called the Capitol Reef area with its multicolored rock formations, “the land of the sleeping rainbow”. Early pioneers named the region after the impassable ridges they called reefs and the limestone dome that reminded them of capitol buildings back East.

Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Fish Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Near the visitor center in Fruita, you can explore the restored one-room Torrey Log School and Church, built in 1889 and pick fresh fruit from the surrounding orchard.

Winding south from Torrey, Scenic Byway 12 climbs to high elevations in spots on its journey to Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument and Bryce Canyon National Park.

And these my friends, are the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

—Edward Abbey

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A Lovely Name For a Lovely River: Guadalupe River State Park

We’d become so absorbed in history during our visit to Lyndon B. Johnson National Historical Park that we truly welcomed the natural serenity of Guadalupe River State Park.

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing.

Guadalupe River State Park, owes its name and existence to one of the most scenic and popular recreational rivers in Texas. When Spanish explorer Alonso de Leon encountered the clear-flowing stream in 1689, he named it Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Our Lady of Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico). The Guadalupe: a lovely name for a lovely river.

Countless springs and tributaries feed the free-flowing Upper Guadalupe, and by the time the river carves a winding path through the state park, it carries ample water for canoeing, kayaking, rafting, tubing, swimming, and angling. The four sets of gentle rapids are especially popular with tubers.

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River might be just another typical Hill Country state park were it not for the exceptional public access it provides to a river whose banks are mostly private property. The park is also unique in the state park system in that it shares a boundary with a state natural area. Together, the 1,938-acre state park and adjoining 2,294-acre Honey Creek State Natural Area comprise more than 4,200 contiguous acres of Hill Country habitat. Access to the state natural area is by guided naturalist tour only.

More than 98 percent of the park guests go straight to the river and never step foot on the trails. The river is what attracts people, and that’s why the park was established.

If some 98 percent of Guadalupe River State Park’s visitors flock to the swimming hole on the Guadalupe, we’re happy to be a “two-percenter” and explore the rest of the park.

There’s so much more to Guadalupe River State Park than just a good swimming hole. The state park abounds with hiking trails that traverse the park’s upland forests, grassland savannahs, and riparian zones. Hikers, mountain bikers, and equestrian riders have access to more than five miles of multiuse trails that crisscross the uplands in a looping, figure-8 pattern.

The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The park has four miles of river frontage and is located in the middle of a nine-mile stretch of the Guadalupe River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nationally recognized for birding, the state park harbors some 160 bird species. Depending on the season, expect to see—or hear—bluebirds, cardinals, canyon and Carolina wrens, white-eyed vireos, yellow-crested woodpeckers, kingfishers, wood ducks, wild turkeys, and red-shouldered hawks.

For a combination of good birdwatching and gorgeous scenery, try hiking along the river through riparian galleries of bald cypress, sycamore, elm, and pecan.

I love the lofty bald cypress trees that line the Guadalupe. Their gnarly roots clutch the riverbanks, and they tower above all else. Some of these arboreal monarchs are several centuries old and have weathered countless flash floods. The bald cypress is aptly named because it’s a deciduous conifer (most are evergreen), turning rust brown, dropping its feathery leaves, and “going bald” each fall.

For RVers wishing to stay overnight or longer, the park provides great camping facilities. Overnight stays are very reasonable with campsites rates ranging from $20-$24 plus the $7 per person park entrance fee. In the Cedar Sage Camping Area, 37 campsites offer 30-amp electric service and water for $20 nightly; in the Turkey Sink multiuse area 48 campsites offer 50-amp electric service and water for $24. Weekly rates are also available.

A Texas State Park Pass will allow you and your guests to enjoy unlimited visits for 1-year to more than 90 State Parks, without paying the daily entrance fee, in addition to other benefits. A Texas State Parks Pass is valid for one year and costs $70.

Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn't be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Flanked by two steep pastel limestone bluffs and towering bald cypress trees, the setting couldn’t be more inviting for swimming, wading, or just relaxing. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Guadalupe River State Park is located 30 miles north of downtown San Antonio. From US 281, travel 8 miles west on Texas 46 and then 3 miles north on Park Road 31.

The parkland along the Guadalupe River is indeed good country.

See it, believe it, for yourself.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

The forces of nature and their impact on the Texas landscape and sky combine to offer an element of drama that would whet the imagination of artists from any medium.

—Wyman Meinzer

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Best and Worst States for Summer Road Trips

For many Americans, summer is the time to hit the open road.

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

About 85 percent of Americans, or 198 million people, are planning time away in the coming months, up 13 percent from 2014. And 89 percent of them will take a summer road trip.

Although the majority (68 percent) of these Americans are planning at least one week-long road trip, (on par with 2014), more are opting for extended vacations and setting out for at least two weeks this year (36 percent vs. 32 percent in 2014).

With school out for the summer break and the weather warm, the possibilities are endless.

But where to go? How to decide on the destination? Where to point the RV for the very best fun, scenic, and relaxing escape?

Each state has unique appeal, with great camping and outdoor activities available. There are national parks, state parks, county and regional parks, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, All American Roads and other scenic byways, historic sites and cities, mountain retreats, museums, and theme parks.

Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway's best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mabry Mill is one of Blue Ridge Parkway’s best-loved attractions. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Every major journey begins with a plan: where you’re going, where you’re stopping along the way, and how you’re getting there.

And for financially conscious travelers, the budget will make the call though it doesn’t have to mean less enjoyment.

To assist frugal travelers plan their summer road trips, WalletHub compared the 50 US states to find the most fun, scenic, and wallet-friendly road-trip destinations—and the ones that’ll have them busting a U-turn.

To find the most road trip-friendly destinations in the US, the states were compared across three equally weighted dimensions, including driving and camping costs, road conditions and safety, and fun and scenic attractions. Next they identified 20 relevant metrics including fuel prices; quality of roads and bridges; and number of national parks, scenic byways, and attractions.

Selected results follow:

Overall Ranking (Best 5; 1-5): Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota, Washington, Ohio

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

Overall Ranking (Worst 5: 46-50): South Dakota, Mississippi, Delaware, North Dakota, Connecticut

Lowest Average Fuel Prices (1-5): South Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Tennessee, Missouri

Highest Average Fuel Prices (46-50): Washington, Nevada, Hawaii, Alaska, California

Lowest Price of Camping (1-5): Nevada, Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi, Arizona

Highest Price of Camping (46-50): Maine, California, Road Island, Maryland, Connecticut

Most National Parks Per Square Mile (1-5): Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maryland, New Jersey, Hawaii

Fewest National Parks Per Square Mile (46-50): Iowa, Alaska, Wisconsin, Nevada, Illinois

Most Scenic Byways (1-5): California, North Carolina, Oregon, Utah, Idaho

Fewest Scenic Byways (46-50): Hawaii, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Connecticut, Delaware

Fewest Car Thefts Per Capita (1-5): Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, Idaho

Most Car Thefts Per Capita (46-50): New Mexico, Oklahoma, Nevada, Washington, California

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Cathedral Rock. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lowest Average Cost of Car Repairs (1-5): Nebraska, New Hampshire, West Virginia, Michigan, New Mexico

Highest Average Cost of Car Repairs: (46-50): Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, North Carolina

What then should we take away from the results of the research? What are the implications? Will it alter our travel plans? If not, why not?

For many RVers and other summer road trippers, scenic attractions and national parks will override fuel or camping costs.

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we detailed four states that stood out from the rest as great RV travel and camping destinations: two in the West (New Mexico and Utah) and two Eastern states (South Carolina, and Georgia). Interestingly, in the overall ranking, these four states ranked number 22, 6, 12, and 13 respectively.

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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Adventure in Albuquerque: Petroglyph National Monument

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—William F. Weahkee, Pueblo Elder

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The Great American Road Trip With 4 Great Stops

Summer is here and there’s no better way to spend this long awaited season than on an RV road trip.

If you're traveling through southern Utah, you'll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

America is 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. And what’s a great road trip without great stops along the way. Possibly, the following four iconic destinations will whet your appetite as you embark on the Great American Road Trip.

Bryce Canyon, Utah

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”. But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

Hiking is the best way to experience the stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most of the park’s trails range from half a mile to 11 miles and take less than a day to complete.

Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations. In just a few hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

But if hiking isn’t your thing, you can still enjoy the landscape from the overlooks on the main park road, which heads 18 miles along a winding corridor through forests and meadows to the park’s southern end.

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Massachusetts

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located on Boston’s waterfront at Columbia Point, the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum is set on a ten acre park landscaped with pine trees, shrubs, and wild roses reminiscent of the landscape of Cape Cod familiar to President Kennedy.

Experience the Museum through three theaters, period settings, and 25 dramatic multimedia exhibits, and enter the recreated world of the Kennedy Presidency for a “first-hand” experience of John F. Kennedy’s life, legacy, and leadership.

This unique tour re-creates the JFK-era White House by using President Kennedy’s voice to tell his story during a self-guided tour of the exhibits. Step back into the middle of the Cold War and the civil rights movement.

Walk along the Boston Harborwalk or picnic on the beautiful grounds at the Harbor’s edge.

During the summer President Kennedy’s 26-foot sail boat Victura is on display on the museum grounds at the edge of Boston Harbor.

Mount Washington Cog Railway, New Hampshire

Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mount Washington Cog Railway © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mount Washington is the highest peak in the White Mountains of New Hampshire—and in the Northeast—and is therefore a very popular attraction for RVers and other sightseers and hikers.

The beauty of the mountains and the thrill of ascending the Northeast’s highest peak are just as enchanting today as they were in 1869, when Sylvester Marsh opened the world’s first mountain-climbing railroad on Mount Washington.

Nearly 150 years later, the Mount Washington Cog Railway continues to provide a sense of adventure and history as it carries passengers up a 3-mile-long trestle and the steepest railroad tracks in North America to the 6,288-foot summit of Mount Washington. There, visitors can take in the spectacular panoramic view, spanning the mountains and valleys of New Hampshire, Maine, and Vermont, north into Canada, and east to the Atlantic Ocean.

Saratoga National Historic Park, New York

Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saratoga National Historic Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here in the autumn of 1777, American forces met, defeated, and forced a major British army to surrender. This crucial American victory in the Battle of Saratoga renewed patriots’ hopes for independence, secured essential foreign recognition and support, and forever changed the face of the world.

Tours of the Battlefield are self-guiding, using information in the park brochure, optional audio tour CD, optional cell phone of MP3 tour, smart phone/tablet Mobile Web App, and interpretive stations along the way.

Whether you’re a history buff or a nature lover, an afternoon at the this beautifully scenic park is a trip worth taking.

Worth Pondering…

What will you begin today?

Yesterday is gone.

Tomorrow has not yet come.

We have only today.

Let us begin.

—Mother Teresa

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