A Slice of Texas BBQ Style

There’s hardly a better way to discover a slice of Texas, so to speak, than with a barbecue road trip—especially one that travels through Central Texas with some of the state’s greatest smoked meats.

City Market in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
City Market in Luling © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For the most impressive barbecue bounties you’ll travel to towns that aren’t necessarily on the way to anywhere.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas as designated by the Texas Legislature. It’s a small town that supports a big barbecue reputation.

Kreuz Market in Lockhart: With new Sunday hours just starting here, you can now make Kreuz Market (since 1900) part of your itinerary any day of the week. I like the weekdays when it’s rare to find a long line. The pressure of a hungry, looming crowd can make one rush an order, but pay attention to what goes on the cutting block and make sure to tell the cutter—which might be the mutton-chopped Roy Perez—if you have a preference like end cuts or fattier slices of beef. Get the shoulder clod and the pork chop along with a link of the jalapeño sausage.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Smitty’s Market in Lockhart: It’s hard to find a better place to eat barbecue than this brick building that dates from 1924. Barbecue was first served here when it housed Kreuz Market which moved out in 1999. Smitty’s opened shortly after with a menu almost identical to Kreuz, but don’t miss the glazed pork ribs which are a popular departure. Prime rib comes off the pit at 11:00am and sells fast. Watch out for the open fires when standing in line, and be sure to leave some time to explore the historic building.

Black’s BBQ in Lockhart: With the feud between Smitty’s and Kreuz, sometimes Black’s gets lost in the mix. If you’ve forgotten about it, the billboards in every direction will remind you when you get to town. Follow them to what is consistently the best brisket in Lockhart. There are also enormous beef ribs to enjoy and some incredible smoked turkey for barbecue dabblers.

Smitty's Market
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Q in Lockhart: The locals love it, but it’s usually ignored by barbecue travelers. I love the sausage, and everything here is a bargain.

City Market in Luling: There are three meats on the menu: brisket, pork spare ribs, and beef sausage. Try them all, but bring some cash. Ordering is done in the back room on the other side of the swinging doors, and don’t ask for beans. This room is only for meat, and the sides and drinks are sold at the front counter. One of my favorite bites in Texas barbecue is the sausage at City Market slathered generously with their signature sauce.

Luling Bar-B-Q in Luling: Unlike City Market across the street, this joint has a huge menu. Choose from a half dozen meats and twice as many sides.

Prause Meat Market in La Grange: If you walk in the front door, a wide glass case full of raw meat might make you wonder if you came to the right place. Enter around back like the locals and you’ll walk right through the pit room to order. Homemade sausage and the pork chops are the best options.

Prause Meat Market
For a real taste of Texas tradition, look no further than the wonderfully quirky Prause Meat Market right on one corner of the town square in La Grange. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

My Texas BBQ Bucket List

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a foodie would have a Texas BBQ to do list.

Snow’s BBQ in Lexington: Being in line by 9:00 a.m. (opens at 8) will give you a good chance of having your pick of the meats. The brisket is obviously the prize, but the pork steak is a favorite of many—including Tootsie Tomanetz, the (nearly) eighty-year-old pitmaster.

Eating at Snow’s is like scaling Mount Everest: Only the hardy and fully prepared reach the summit. Snow’s is in the middle of nowhere. Furthermore, the window of opportunity is minuscule, because it is open only on Saturday mornings. On top of that, Snow’s septuagenarian guru of ’cue, Tootsie Tomanetz, cooks a limited number of briskets, chickens, pork ribs, and pork butt. When they’re gone, they’re gone. So get there early! Your reward is the most celestial barbecue in Texas—that and the knowledge that you are one of the few, the brave, who have summited Snow’s.

Southside Market in Elgin: It’s not in the original building, but this is the oldest barbecue joint in Texas still in operation. They’re famous for their sausage, or “hot guts” which aren’t as hot as they used to be. Use the hot sauce at the tables to make a pool on your tray and dip the links into it for a kick. Do the same with the great smoked chicken and the mutton ribs which are a rarity in Texas.

Luling Bar-B-Q © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Luling Bar-B-Q © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Louie Mueller Barbecue in Taylor: They open at 10:00 on Saturday morning, so don’t worry about getting here too early from Snow’s. The lines at the height of lunch can be daunting, so try to make it here before 11:00. Those who like a little heat will crave the heavy black pepper rub, but amp it up a little with a link of the house made jalapeño or chipotle sausage. A whole beef rib will be tough to tackle for single diners—it can feed a family of four with a few sides added on—but it’s one of the signature trophy cuts in Texas barbecue. Settle in and enjoy the historic building before heading down the street.

Worth Pondering…

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious barbecue. It is the source of all true art and science.

—Albert Einstein

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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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Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor

Framed by a protected cove on Urbanna Creek off Rappahannock River, the charming, historic Colonial port town of Urbanna is a Tidewater Virginia gem. With the open waters of Chesapeake Bay a few nautical miles away, Urbanna has more boats than people, according to locals.

© Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Urbanna’s marinas, boutique shops, restaurants, galleries, and trove of 18th century historic buildings are all within an easy stroll through town, making for an enchanting visit and stay.

In 1649, Ralph Wormeley patented 3,200 acres on Rosegill Creek and the Rappahannock River. Landowners like Wormeley established plantations on Virginia’s navigable rivers, which they used as private ports, shipping tobacco directly to market without the inconvenience and expense of going through an official port of entry.

The 1680 Acts of Assembly at Jamestown changed all that by ordering local officials to create 20, 50-acre port towns in Virginia for 10,000 pounds of tobacco each, through which all trade would take place. A small part of Ralph Wormeley’s Rosegill that would, in 1705, be named Burgh of Urbanna, “City of Anne”, was one of them. The town was named in honor of England’s Queen Anne.

Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Rosegill Plantation consists of an impressive range of 18th century buildings: a washhouse, the dwelling house, the kitchen, and a storage house. The buildings standing today stylistically date between 1730-1750 and are a significant example of colonial plantation architecture. The extensive nature of the original complex makes Rosegill one of the oldest and most historic estates in America.

Seven buildings in town have been in continuous use since the colonial period. Four of them are on the National Register of Historic Places. All are located in Urbanna’s historic district.

The James Mills Scottish Factor Store (also known as the Old Tobacco Warehouse), which now serves as the town’s Museum and Visitors’ Center, is where planters exchanged tobacco for immediate cash and credit to purchase imported goods for sale. The building, itself, is a valuable piece of history, being the only Scottish Factor Store (circa 1765?) left standing in North America. The Mitchell Map, proudly displayed inside, is also a valuable rarity. This is the first edition, 3rd impression of the map called “The most important map in the U.S,” published and printed in 1755.

Next door is the Gressitt House, where Urbanna’s Harbormaster once lived. Across the street is Little Sandwich, believed to have been the port town’s Customs House.

Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Up the hill you’ll find Middlesex County’s original courthouse. It’s one of only 11 colonial courthouses still standing in Virginia today.

Other very special places can be found all around the Town. Cottage Row, a collection of quaint two story cottages built for supervisors of Urbanna Manufacturing Company are located on Taylor Avenue.

In the downtown area you will find Bristow’s Store, which first open its doors in 1876. Right down the street is Marshall’s Drug Store where you can sit at the old fashioned soda fountain, right out of the 1950s. Not far from the drug store is Haywood’s Variety Store. Built in 1875, merchants in this location have operated under the name Haywood’s Store since 1911.

As the international sailing vessels of the colonial tobacco trade yielded to Chesapeake Bay schooners, then steamboats, then the pleasure boats of today, one thing remained constant: Urbanna’s history and fortunes are one with the Bay.

During the Urbanna Cup Regatta in spring, captains of all ages and skills gather at the Town Marina to race wooden 8-foot Cocktail Class Runabouts.

Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When leaves change color and the air is crisp, it’s time for the Urbanna Oyster Festival—Virginia’s official Oyster Festival. The event draws over 75,000 visitors to town the first weekend in November (58th Annual; November 6-7, 2015).

The family fun features oyster-inspired art, the centerpiece parade with beauty queens and their courts from around Virginia, the hotly contested Oyster Shucking Contest, a juried art show, a holiday house tour, concerts in the park, street parades, boat parades, fireworks, and a monthly farmer’s market.

Come see what drew Ralph Wormeley to the verdant plateau overlooking Urbanna Creek in 1649, where the famed plantation Rosegill became one of the great houses of Virginia. And where Urbanna would become one of the great, picturesque towns of Virginia.

Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Urbanna: Historic Port Town With Old-fashioned Flavor © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

He was a bold man who first ate an oyster.

—Jonathan Swift (1667-1745)

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5 Things I Learned While RVing The American South

The American South has a mixed reputation in U.S. popular culture: it’s home to sweet tea, gravy and biscuits, country music and the blues, barbecue and soul food, friendly and helpful people, and beautiful and diverse landscapes.

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

The first time we visited the South was in 1986 on a working road trip across the U.S. We found an incredible region of helpful people, a countryside dotted with rolling hills, farms, and forests, and hearty food rich in flavor. From Charleston to New Orleans and Nashville to Mobile and everything in between, the South was extraordinary.

During the past 10 years we have further explored the region. There is prodigious variety here, a region of many impressions.

The food will make you happy

Food plays a central role in Southern life and is rich in both flavor and diversity. Each region has its own specialties—barbecue in Memphis and North Carolina, Creole and Cajun food in Louisiana, seafood along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts, soul food in the Low Country, and fried chicken and gravy most anywhere in the region. And there’s Sweet Potato Pie, Goo Goo Clusters, and pecan pie, all Southern traditions.

Many picture Southern food as greasy, fried, and heavy fare. While much of it is hearty, the richness in flavor and variety is outstanding. There is something for everyone, and if you go hungry while visiting, it is your own fault.

I could spend a lifetime eating my way through the South. (Mental note to future self: Do that.)

Café Des Amis in historic downtown Breaux Bridge, Louisiana,  hosts a world famous Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning and a spectacular Sunday brunch served all day. Fuel up on beignets or Orielle de Cochon, Zydeco or Big Hat omelets, Eggs Des Amis or Eggs Begnaud, sweet potato pancakes or Couche Couche before hitting the dance floor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Café Des Amis in historic downtown Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, hosts a world famous Zydeco Breakfast every Saturday morning and a spectacular Sunday brunch served all day. Fuel up on beignets or Orielle de Cochon, Zydeco or Big Hat omelets, Eggs Des Amis or Eggs Begnaud, sweet potato pancakes or Couche Couche before hitting the dance floor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Music makes the region go ’round

Music is a way of life here. The sound of live music fills the air everywhere. Nashville, Memphis, and New Orleans are famous music haunts, but even the tiniest towns throughout the South have robust live music scenes. From jazz to country to blues to bluegrass, there’s a music soul to this region. One can dance, jam, and sing the night away.

The people really are friendly 

There’s a common belief that the South is home to the friendliest people in the country. And along with Texans and small-town America they probably are. They are cheerful, talkative, and incredibly helpful. Strangers wave hello, inquire about your day, and generally go the extra mile to make visitors feel welcome. The folks here have hospitality down to an art.

Bye, Ya’ll come back now! Ya hear?

The landscape is stunning

The Southern landscape is beautiful and diverse. The Smoky Mountains are a vast, dense forest filled with inviting rivers, lakes, and trails. The Louisiana bayou is haunting with moss-covered trees and eerie calm. The hills of Appalachia stretch for wooded miles and the Mississippi Delta, with its swamps and marshes is gorgeous. And the beaches of the Florida Panhandle the Alabama Gulf Coast are so white they sparkle.

Sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand await the RVer on the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sparkling turquoise Gulf waters and stunningly white sand await the RVer on the Alabama Gulf Coast. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To understand The South, you have to understand its past

As a student of history, I was excited to explore the area’s colonial cities and Civil War sites. Cities like New Orleans, Vicksburg, Savannah, Memphis, Pensacola, St. Augustine, Mobile, and Charleston helped shape the country—and their history and influence are important to the story of America.

It was in these cities that many American cultural and political leaders were born, the Civil War began, battles were won and lost, and the rise and fall of slavery was sown. Voodoo, alligators, wild horses, African culture, and the wealthiest families in the United States are all part of the history of the Golden Isles of Georgia. These cities and their history help explain a lot about Southern pride and culture.

I love the area more with each visit. It’s one of the most culturally rich areas in the country. There’s a reason why its cities are booming.

South Carolina Low Country near Beaufort. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
South Carolina Low Country near Beaufort. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Go visit the region, get out of the cities, travel through the mountains, and find your way into the small towns. You’ll discover friendly people, heavenly food, amazing music, and an appreciation for a slow pace of life.

Worth Pondering…

Y’all Come Back Saloon
She played tambourine with a silver jingle
And she must have known the words to at least a million tunes
But the one most requested by the man she knew as cowboy
Was the late night benediction at the y’all come back saloon

—written by Sharon Vaughn and recorded by The Oak Ridge Boys

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4 Great Restaurants From Our Road Trips Across America

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

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

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

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

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

Stingaree Marina and Restaurant, Crystal Beach, Texas

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

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

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

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

Kloesel’s Steak House, Moulton, Texas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

La Postas de Mesilla, Mesilla, New Mexico

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

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Erma Bombeck

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Getaway To New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

Whether you are a nature-lover, photographer, adventurer, or just looking for an amazing experience, a road trip to New Mexico will not disappoint.

Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Historic Old Town, the heart of Albuquerque, was founded 1706. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Like Utah and Arizona, much of New Mexico is saved for all to enjoy as wilderness in state or national park format. Be it petroglyphs or stone dwelling from ancient residents, pictographs, or trails left by religious and mercantile travelers, hiking over huge lava fields or pristine white sand dunes, going subterranean for weird cave formations and bats, or dipping your toes or a paddle in the Rio Grande, there is much to engage the outdoor lover.

The true Southwest awaits you in Albuquerque, a city with a name that is as much fun to spell as it is to say.

On the west edge of Albuquerque, Petroglyphs National Monument is best explored with hiking shoes, a digital camera, and binoculars. Three separate sections of the park showcase different rock art and require various levels of physical fitness. A nice afternoon can be made of exploring all three. Scrambling over rocks to locate the ancient pictures will make you feel like a child exploring for treasure. A zoom lens helps for capturing images on odd rock faces.

Once you are done following the trail of ancient art, head into Albuquerque and immerse yourself in the rich culture and heritage, rooted in centuries of history. Soak in the blue skies and sun that shines 310 days a year-perfect for outdoor activities. Breathe in the high desert air scented with sage and piñon, and you’ll understand why Albuquerque is a destination like no other.

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

The Sandia Mountains looming over Albuquerque provide an impressive backdrop for a city with a good, friendly vibe. Sandia is Spanish for watermelon and you may be fortunate enough to witness a red- and pink-hued sunset that reminds you of this succulent fruit.

Quintessential Adobe brick houses line older neighborhoods, a walkable downtown encourages exploration and the blend of Native American, Latino, and Anglo cultures provides art and cuisine as a feast for the eye and the palette.

New Mexico is home to 22 Native American tribes, including the Navajo Nation, Jicarilla Apache, Mescalero Apache, and 19 pueblos. Each tribe is unique and has its own traditional language, customs, values, prayers, songs, ceremonies, traditional attire, and way of life.

The centrally located Albuquerque area is the perfect starting point from which to explore the Native American heritage. A majority of the 19 pueblos are located in northern New Mexico. Reminders of Native American presence are throughout the state: cliff dwellings and pit houses, kivas (underground ceremonial chambers), abandoned cities along ancient trade routes, and symbols etched in rock.

Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights
Sandstone bluffs and mesas as viewed from Sandstone Bluff’s Overlook at El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque is a valuable resource for visitors interested in learning more about these tribes and Native American traditions in New Mexico. The Cultural Center features a museum, restaurant, gift shop, regular dance performances, and offers information about visiting the pueblos and a calendar of feast days and other events.

Seventy-two miles to the east, El Malpais National Monument intrigues the visitor with vast fields of lava flows. Molten lava spread out over the high desert from dozens of eruptions to create cinder cones, shield volcanos, collapses, trenches, caves, and other eerie formations.

The name El Malpais, or badlands, certainly seems to fit the bill here. It is hard to imagine anyone needing to cross mile after mile of broken, rocky, rough lava, but there is indeed a trail that does so. Better to see each side of the park by driving and checking out the many scenic viewpoints and shorter trails.

Just down the road at El Morro, the massive monolith carved with graffiti from travelers stopping for rest and water will make you ponder those who have passed this way before.

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

Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rising 200 feet above the valley floor, El Morro’s Inscription Rock bears witness to over 700 years of history. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

No adventure in New Mexico is complete until you have experienced their cuisine. Unlike any other, it is a blend of flavors from Spanish and Native American cultures that has been perfected over the course of 400 years. At the center of it all is the New Mexican chile, in both red and green varieties, which is used in everything from enchiladas to ice cream.

Whether you are looking for a dining experience that has received a James Beard award or an authentic dive off the beaten path, you will find it here.

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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21 Tips for the Snowbird Asking, “Now What?”

Freedom is a wonderful thing. The kind of freedom offered by the snowbird lifestyle is the ultimate. What a life!

Mardi Gras parade
A Mardi Gras parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Home is where you park it. You’ve settled into your destination resort, your new home for the winter months. You’ve introduced yourselves to your neighbors and met several new friends.

You can choose to do nothing in particular and simply relax, socialize with your fellow snowbirds, and enjoy your winter home. Or you can opt for a more active lifestyle.

Following are 21 tips for the snowbird asking, “Now what?”

1. Many snowbird parks provide a wide variety of resort amenities and organized activities designed to keep their seasonal guests involved and active.

2. Computer rooms, game rooms with pool tables, tennis and shuffleboard courts, a pickle ball facility, and an arts and craft room frequented by quilters and sewing enthusiasts may be available at your snowbird park.

3. Check out the area’s visitor information center and local papers for current happenings, flea markets, arts and crafts classes and workshops, organized hikes, farmers markets, fairs and festivals, parades, and other events and happenings.

San Xavier del Bac
Explore the cultural history of the area. Pictured above San Xavier del Bac. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take time to savor the local culture and learn about the area’s heritage and cuisine. Attend lectures and seminars, plays, musical performances, and dances.

5. Natural beauty abounds in most locations. Check out national, state, county, and regional parks, national wildlife refuges, national and state forests, scenic byways, nature parks and centers, aquariums, wildlife and zoological parks, and game reserves.

6. Explore the cultural history of the area by visiting museums, historical and archaeological sites, and other significant landmarks where important events took place.

7. Take tours of churches, cathedrals, antebellum mansions, architectural and heritage sites, and other locations of historical significance.

8. Check out activities and classes offered by the local parks and recreation department.

9. Absorb the local culture by attending sporting events.

10. A visit to the public library makes for an interesting rainy day activity.

11. Give back to your snowbird community by volunteering at one of the many nonprofit agencies in the area.

green jay
Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits. The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

12. Keep a journal/blog with photos of your snowbird activities to share with family and friends.

13. Make a start on sorting and organizing your photos; don’t forget to back up all digital files in case of a computer crash.

14. Take up a new hobby or sign up for a class to hone your current skills.

15. Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits.

16. RVing can be even more memorable when it’s shared with other snowbirds at an RV rally. There are several different types of RV rallies including Good Sam Club National and Chapter rallies, manufacturer club rallies, and club rallies for RVers of similar interests.

17. RV shows are also scheduled with snowbirds in mind. There is no better way to shop for a new RV or upgrade your current one than by attending an RV show, where numerous dealers and suppliers come together to show off their wares. You’ll have an opportunity to check out a wide-range of recreational vehicles in one location, often at special “show prices”.

18. Dining comes in all shapes and sizes in the various Sunbelt locations including slow-cooked barbecues through to fresh-out-of-the-water seafood, Mexican and Cuban cuisine, Southern Cooking, Cajun and Creole specialties, fast foods, and buffets. Senior specials are available.

19. Walking, hiking, and playing golf are great ways to stay physically fit and to meet new people.

Tamale Festival
Take advantage of a festival near your snowbird roost. Pictured above the Tamale Festival in Indio, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Take advantage of some of the celebrations, parades, and other special activities held near your snowbird roost. Whether you’re a foodie or sports nut, you’ll find a seasonal festivals or fun-filled event that will highlight your stay.

21. Consider mapping your return journey home into segments of several weeks.

Even after six months “on the road” you may not be ready to start the northern trek home. But before long you’ll begin planning your return to the Sunbelt next winter.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day…

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Happy snowbird travels!

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Central Texas BBQ Legends

Barbecue is food group. Each region has its own style, it’s preferred meat.

Smitty's Market
Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, beef is king. Brisket is meltingly tender and there’s not enough time in the day, or room in my stomach, to try it all. In fact, when in Central Texas I look at a LOT of BBQ and allow myself to really indulge in tasting a LOT of BBQ.

And while Texas barbecue is a topic that inspires near-religious fervor and heated debate from its devotees, many barbecue die-hards can agree on one thing: Central Texas is the pinnacle of all the smoked meat meccas, a prime reason I return to Central Texas on a regular basis.

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. In 1999, the Texas House of Representatives adopted Resolution No. 1024 to make Lockhart the official Barbecue capital of Texas and the Senate followed suit in 2003, confirming what many already knew to be true.

For such a small town—population roughly 13,000—Lockhart is home to a mighty impressive lineup of time-honored barbecue restaurants that draws visitors from far and wide. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Each one is famous in its own right, but at 82 years old and counting, Black’s Barbecue in Lockhart’s picturesque downtown is one of the oldest family-owned barbecue  restaurants in the state of Texas.

Black's Barbecue
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Beginning in the 19th century, scores of Germans and Czechs emigrated to Central Texas, bringing along traditional foods like sausage and kolaches. Many grocery and meat market businesses were established by these immigrants, and it was from these markets that the institution of Central Texas barbecue was born.

“These pioneers (brought) with them a style of meat-smoking from the old country that involved salt, pepper, meat, and wood. Whatever fresh meat they couldn’t sell, they would smoke and sell as barbecue,” wrote Katy Vine in Texas Monthly.

“As demand grew, the markets evolved into barbecue joints, though the style of service didn’t change much. The meat was still sliced in front of the customer in line and served on butcher paper. Sauce generally wasn’t offered.”

True to form, Black’s Barbecue was originally founded as a meat market and grocery during the Depression. As was typical in those days, leftover meat was utilized to fuel a brisk side business of BBQ.

Fifty years after Black’s was founded, the family got out of the grocery game, but by then the BBQ part of the business had taken on a life of its own. And while the barbecue sauce now flows freely, the smoked meats are still served up on butcher paper just like they were so many years ago.

Smitty's Market
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Customers are funneled through a narrow corridor that shuffles them through a salad bar where side items like deviled eggs, picnic-style potato salad, and pinto beans are served up buffet-style. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find glistening slabs of brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing a picturesque fire blazing in the waist-high ancient brick pit and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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Texas BBQ: By Meat Alone

The American barbecue tradition is rooted in numerous ancient practices.

A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty's Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A perennial favorite of barbecue lovers is Smitty’s Market in Lockhart, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Caddo Indians had a method for smoking venison, and in the West Indies, natives grilled meats on a frame of green sticks.

Indeed the English word barbecue came from the Arawak-Carib word barbracot (via the Spanish word barbacoa).

When European colonists arrived in the New World, no doubt tired of all the salt cod from the long Atlantic passage, they found a local population that roasted fish, birds, corn—pretty much anything at hand. The newcomer’s contribution was to introduce a tasty new animal: the hog.

Not only was this beast a marked improvement over the previous fare, but its own habits proved well suited to the Eastern seaboard. In rural areas and colonial towns, pigs would roam freely, indiscriminately eating trash until someone decided to roast them, which was done in the local manner—a hole in the ground, a fire, and a split hog laid directly above it on a wood frame.

The first recorded mention of American barbecue dates back to 1697 and George Washington mentions attending a “barbicue” in Alexandria, Virginia in 1769.

As the country expanded westwards along the Gulf of Mexico and north along the Mississippi River, barbecue went with it.

Barbecue in its current form grew up in the South, where cooks learned to slow-roast tough cuts of meat over fire pits to make them tender.

 Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black's Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas, is home to four major barbecue restaurants including award-winning Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This Caribbean style of slow cooking meat formed the basis of the Southern barbecue tradition that influenced Texas when some of its first American settlers arrived.

European meat smoking traditions were brought by German and Czech settlers in Central Texas during the mid-19th century. The original tradition was that butchers would smoke leftover meat that had not been sold so that it could be stored and saved. As these smoked leftovers became popular, many of these former meat markets evolved to specialize in these smoked meats.

The wood-smoking traditions of the Lone Star State’s distinct barbecue styles vary by regions:

  • Central Texas “meat market” style, in which spice-rubbed meat is cooked over indirect heat from pecan or heavy post oak wood, a method that originated in the butcher shops of German and Czech immigrants
  • Hill Country and West Texas “cowboy style,” which involves direct heat cooking over mesquite coals and uses goat and mutton as well as beef and pork
  • East Texas style, essentially the hickory-smoked, sauce-coated barbecue with which most Americans are familiar
  • South Texas barbacoa, in which whole beef heads are traditionally cooked in pits dug into the earth

The barbecue is typically served with plenty of thick sauce (either slathered on the meat or on the side for dipping or both), and then sides of coleslaw, potato salad, pinto beans, and fat slabs of white bread.

Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

If you want to sink your teeth into excellent brisket, then head to Lockhart, the official Barbecue Capital of Texas. The small town is home to four major barbecue restaurants: Black’s Barbecue, which has been owned by the same family since 1932; Chisholm Trail Bar-B-Que; Smitty’s Market; and Kreuz Market (pronounced Krites).

Heavy on the pepper, the snappy beef-and-pork sausage at Kreuz Market is truly one of the best in Barbecueland. The pork spareribs taste fresh, with plenty of juicy, delicious meat on them, and the beef ribs are scrumptious.

Only the uninitiated use the front door at Smitty’s Market. You’ll enter the boxy brick building from the parking lot passing the waist-high brick pits and peruse the list of post oak–smoked meats—brisket, pork ribs and chops, shoulder clod, sausage, and prime rib. Salivating, you place your order for a pound or so of meat. May this bulwark of tradition never change.

Instead of a mesmerizing encounter with a picturesque fire blazing at the end of an ancient brick pit like you’ll find at Smitty’s, at Black’s you’re funneled through a narrow corridor past a salad bar. When you finally reach the meat counter, you’ll find great brisket, enormous beef short ribs, pork ribs, pork chops, smoked turkey breast, and Black’s signature sausage (90 percent beef, 10 percent pork) with phenomenal flavor.

Heading south on Highway 183, the City Market in Luling is just 15 miles  away. Admired as one of the best barbecue places in Texas, City Market offers brisket, sausage links, and pork ribs. They also offer pinto beans and a homemade mustard-based sauce which is out-of-this-world.

On a recent trip to the Coastal Bend we checked out Mumphord’s Place BBQ in Victoria and it did not disappoint. The minute we parked, I was drawn to the action out back where the pit master tends the glowing fireboxes and pits in the screened-in shed. This is “cowboy-style” barbecue, where the wood is burned to coals, then transferred to large metal pits in which the meat is placed on grates set about four feet directly above the heat.

The flavor is good, and in a part of the state where quality ’cue of any kind is scarce, Mumphord’s does a better than decent job. Part of the fun is being there, in the room with its red-checked tablecloths, sports photos, trophies, cow skulls, an ancient icebox, a sword, old firearms and cameras, beer cans, and heaven knows what else.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

You don’t need no teeth to eat my beef.

—from Legends of Texas BBQ

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The History of Winter Texans

Thousands of snow-weary northerners flock to Texas for the winter.

Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission.
Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas—a state famous for adding its unique flair—migrating snowbirds have been affectionately dubbed Winter Texans.

Most congregate in one of two areas: Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley.

The majority of Winter Texans flock to “The Valley”, an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Starting in the east and heading west, there’s Brownsville, Los Fresco, Rio Honda, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, and Mission.

Technically not part of The Valley, nearby Rio Hondo, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island are also favorite roosts for Winter Texans. The South Padre Island beaches are never crowded, except during Spring Break, when no Winter Texan in their right mind would venture there.

The Valley lies at nearly the same latitude as Miami, Florida. Winters tend to be mild and a bit breezy; however, the weather can be unpredictable. The Valley enjoys a year ’round sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 74°F. The average rainfall is 23.2 inches.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. Watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds in the Rio Grande Valley. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley is arguably the best bargain in the U.S. for wintering in a warm climate. While the area offers everything you’ll find in other snowbird roosts, living costs are less expensive, with the added advantage of being right next door to Mexico.

Dining comes in all shapes and sizes in The Valley, beginning with Texas slow-cooked barbecues, where the pork, chicken, and beef fall off the bone, to Tex-Mex specialties, Mexican cuisine that’s as good as you’ll find in Mexico, fast foods, and buffets. Eating out here does not break the bank, and senior specials are available daily.

It has been said of The Valley that there are two kinds of ground cover: Perfect rows of irrigated citrus groves and winter vegetables; and semi-organized rows of recreational vehicles.

Local attractions, restaurants, and retailers go all out to lure these winter visitors. Newspaper headlines and signs welcome Winter Texans back home to The Valley.

World's Largest Killer Bee
Hidalgo is the “Killer Bee Capital of the World” and proud of it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In trying to define what makes the Winter Texans different from their Snowbird cousins in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California, it seems to do with their roots and why they spend their winters here. Winter Texans come primarily from a Mid-West, small-town or rural roots—not that much unlike those that winter in Yuma, Arizona.

Bird-watchers from around the world converge on The Valley to see rare and unique birds.

Mostly frost-free, the valley contains the northern-most extension of the Mexican subtropical biota ecosystem, attracting a variety of neotropical birds more commonly found in Mexico.

Much of the valley now supports extensive urban/agricultural activities, but numerous natural areas along the Rio Grande have been protected and provide oases for more than 500 bird species that reside in or migrate through this region.

Many of the subtropical species are south Texas specialties, meaning it’s the only location in the United States where these birds can be found.

There are probably thousands of stories to explain how the term Winter Texan first originated.  But few pre-date the one from Barbara Pybus who published a personal account on the Texas State Historical Association Web site concerning the winter immigration of her grandparents starting back in 1925.

According to the story, it was Edward Horace Tate and Lucinda Amanda Tate who may have been the first Winter Texans. Grand-daughter Barbara reports in 1925 the Tates joined a real estate excursion train at Roosevelt, Oklahoma, traveling to McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. Convinced of the health benefits of the region and after being impressed by the tour of the Valley, the Tates decided they liked it enough to purchase a parcel of property to be used a place to escape the Oklahoma winters.

Tens of Thousands of Snowbirds come to Texas for the winter where they transform from snowbirds to Winter Texans.

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas anddense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas anddense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have wintered in Winter Texan Friendly RV parks in Harlingen, La Feria, Alamo, and Mission.

Approximately 15 percent of Winter Texans eventually make the Valley their permanent residence.

Come to Texas for the Winter, You’ll be glad you did! You may even become a Converted Texan.

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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