My Great American Road Trip

To Americans, there’s nothing that holds more appeal than the classic road trip.

Moody Mansion, Galveston, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Moody Mansion, Galveston, Texas. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the ’20s, the car was a symbol of freedom—a chance to escape your small town or rural America.

As the highway system was developed in the ’50s and ’60s, a wave of young people set out on the road to explore the country, giving new life to America’s car and road trip culture.

And to this today, Americans have an ongoing love affair with the car and great open road. And no road trip holds more mystery and allure than traveling cross-country. It’s the king of all road trips.

In 1986 on a working road trip across the U.S. we drove our truck and fifth wheel trailer across the U.S. from west to the east and back west again.

Leaving our home in the Northwest we spent over eight months traversing the country, getting as far east as Virginia Beach, the Outer Banks, Charleston, Savannah,  and Jacksonville, and as far south as Orlando, Miami, the Everglades, and Key West before turning back west, driving across the southern states with numerous stops along the way including Pensacola, Mobile, Pascagoula, Galveston, San Antonio, El Paso, Las Cruces, Tucson, and Phoenix. But we barely scratched the surface of what America offers. We saw and experienced a lot—from the Rocky Mountains, to the Black Hills, across the Great Plains.

Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights
Our Grand Circle tour included Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights

But you don’t realize just how vast the U.S. is until you’ve been driving for twelve hours and notice you’re still in Texas.

The U.S. is big and there is still so much more of it to see.

During the past 18 years, we’ve driven over 130,000 miles in varied RVs as we explored America from the Oregon Coast to the Charleston and from the Upper Peninsula to the Rio Grande Valley.

We have traversed the U.S. along varied interstates and scenic routes and byways further exploring the beauty and uniqueness of this vast country. There is prodigious variety in the cities and towns and scenic attractions and offerings in various regions, a country of many impressions.

From Memphis to Montana, Yellowstone to the Grand Canyon, the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, Wine Country in California, Utah’s Grand Circle Tour, Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mobile, and much more, we continue our exploration in our trusty and comfy motorhome.

“What’s your favorite place to go?”

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

People hate that answer.

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

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

The truth is, we have visited 34 states and 4 Canadian provinces in the past 18 years, and found something that we adored in every one of them.

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

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

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

After all these miles and varied experiences, I still feel the same way.

The “Good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”, the best is yet to come as I have quite the long route in front of me. Please stay tuned!

Worth Pondering…

You’ve heard the old Willie Nelson country music song with the lyrics, “On the road again. Just can’t wait to get on the road again…” We’ll be singing this song for sure.

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Texas is BIG—Beautiful & Diverse

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse.

Big Bend National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Big Bend National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the state untouched.

We’ve driven through Texas numerous times over the years. But yet, it always amazes us just how big Texas really is.

Charting any RV trip through the state can be a daunting task. So many miles, so many routes, and even after all our years on the road we’ve still not seen large portions of the Lone Star State. Every trip through, we explore new areas—and revisit favorite haunts.

The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

Monahans Sandhills State Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monahans Sandhills State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Usually we just follow I-10 in from the west. Yes, it can be boring but it is the most direct route.

We take our time and schedule varied side excursions along the way and make the journey—and not the destination—the highlight of the trip. It is the journey that is the joy of RVing.

We’ve explored the Big Bend area, including Big Bend National Park, Terlingua, Alpine, Marfa, and Davis Mountain Observatory. If it’s solitude you seek, you’ll find it here. However you see it, Big Bend is not soon forgotten: It’s a place of mystery and timeless beauty.

The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park is one-of-a-kind. A half-hour’s drive west of Odessa it’s well worth a visit. The park consists of 3,840 acres of wind-sculpted living sand dunes, some up to 70 feet high. The Park is set in one of the areas where the dunes are still active and constantly being shaped by the wind and rain. The dunes grow and change shape due to seasonal prevailing winds and you can watch them change whenever the wind is blowing.

Blue Bell, Brenham  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Blue Bell, Brenham © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Ice cream. For us aficionados, ice cream is one of the four food groups. Blue Bell has become the best tasting and certainly the most successful ice cream in Texas (and that means the best in the world). Would my taste buds lie? To learn what makes an exceptionally good thing good, we visited “the little creamery” in Brenham: I think we found out but every few years we require a refresher course.

Lockhart is the Barbecue Capital of Texas. Out-of-towners and locals flock to four smoked-meat emporiums—Black’s Barbecue, Chisholm Trail Barbecue, Kreuz Market, and Smitty’s Market. Several tons of barbecued beef, pork, chicken, and smoked sausage links are served each day. Aside from the barbecue, Lockhart is a wonderful old town to visit. This small Texas town exudes a rustic, slow-paced charm arising from its Western heritage, rooted in cattle and cotton.

One of the great joys of RVing is visiting new places and making interesting discoveries. Another is just the opposite—revisiting those places that demand a closer look. Sometimes that second chance leads to a third—and a fourth. City Market in Luling, is such a place. The meat-market-turned-barbecue-restaurant started in 1958, and over the years has become a barbecue icon. This is the arguably the best barbeque in all of Texas which helps explain why Luling is perennially included on our Texas itinerary.

Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spoetzl Brewery, Shiner © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas, the mere mention of the word “Shiner” immediately brings to mind thoughts of a cold longneck and the distinctive brew within. However, before the beer, there was the town. Not surprisingly, the best way to learn the history of Shiner is to learn the history of Shiner Beer, as the two have been intertwined for more than a hundred years. So, we headed to Spoetzl Brewery and joined a tour. The tour gave use a firsthand look into the brewing process and, of course, a firsthand sampling of the final product, from flagstaff Shiner Bock to the Extra Pale Ale, Haymaker. A day trip to Shiner goes down as smooth as the namesake beverage. As they say when toasting in Shiner, “Prosit!”

There’s more—much more—adventure in Texas. Space does not permit to detail our numerous other unforgettable adventures and experiences from The Alamo, River Walk, and San Antonio Missions National Historic Park in San Antonio to Fredericksburg, Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, and Lyndon B. Johnson National Historic Park in the Hill Country. Galveston, Johnson Space Center, Big Thicket National Preserve, Caddo Lake, Rockport, Goliad, Rio Grande Valley, Palo Duro Canyon, and Austin.

Don’t Mess with Texas, Y’all!

And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas

What’s Next?

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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5 Must-See Stops on a Road Trip Across America

Every RVer’s bucket list should include at least one road trip across America.

Remember the Alamo! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Remember the Alamo! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Want to make it extra memorable? Consider stopping at one—or all—of these must-see places along the way.

The Alamo

One hundred seventy-nine years ago The Alamo was the site of a pivotal moment in the history of the Texas Revolution where 250 or so Texian and Tejano defenders held off an estimated 1,500 Mexican soldiers for 13 days. The Alamo is remembered as a heroic struggle against overwhelming odds—a place where men made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom. For this reason the Alamo remains hallowed ground and the Shrine of Texas Liberty.

If you travel to San Antonio to take in The Alamo, you’ll almost certainly visit the River Walk. They’re just a couple blocks apart, connected by an “alley” with waterfalls, snazzy shops, and lush gardens.

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

Route 66

No matter where you decide to go on your road trip, a stop along the historic Route 66 is absolutely mandatory. Nicknamed Main Street of America and the Mother Road, the famous highway holds a special place in American consciousness and evokes images of simpler times, mom and pop businesses, and the icons of a mobile nation on the road.

Completed in 1938, Route 66, which once served as the main corridor taking drivers from Chicago to Los Angeles, sparks excitement and a feeling of freedom in many travelers who love the open road.

Sedona

Sedona and Red Rock Country
Sedona and Red Rock Country, a vacation hotspot, has appeal for every member of the family. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece. Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests.

Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops. The Sedona community offers so much—history, archeology, arts, culture, hiking, biking, off-road adventure, and spiritual and metaphysical meditations.

Santa Fe

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

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

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

Alabama Gulf Coast

Mix two parts sugar-white sand with one part crystal blue water. Add a generous helping of Southern hospitality, and you have the key ingredients of the beautiful Alabama Gulf Coast.

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

One of the most charming small towns in America, Fairhope is located on the beautiful Eastern Shore of Mobile Bay. A growing arts center with quaint boutiques, specialty shops, bookstores, cafes, and galleries line its quaint downtown streets. From the business district, Fairhope Avenue funnels toward grand homes and parkland down to the Fairhope Pier and Mobile Bay. The pier’s picturesque setting makes it a wonderful place to view gorgeous sunsets.

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

Worth Pondering…

If you ever plan to motor west
Travel my way, the highway that’s the best.
Get your kicks on Route 66!

—Bobby Troup

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Campgrounds As Base Camps For Festivals & Special Events

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

Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

Following is a sampling of the festivals and special events 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.

California: Indian Wells Arts Festival, Indian Wells, April 3-5, 2015

There’s something for everyone at the 13th annual Indian Wells Arts Festival. There’s sidewalk chalk drawing, children’s activities, wine tasting, live musical entertainment, and refreshments throughout the day.

Taking place on the grass garden plaza of the Indian Wells Tennis Garden, more than 200 award winning artists set up their displays to create a unique artisan village with thousands of hand-made, one-of-a-kind painting, drawings, ceramics, glass, photography, sculpture, jewelry, apparel, and other wares.

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

Nearby Attractions: Indian Canyons, Palm Springs Aerial Tramway, Joshua Tree National Park, Coachella Nature Preserve

Recommended RV Park: Indian Waters RV Resort & Cottages, Indio, California

Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon, Tucson, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Arizona: 33rd Annual Tucson International Mariachi Festival, Tucson, April 8-11, 2015

The Tucson International Mariachi Festival is an award winning conference recognized as one of the largest cultural events in the United States. Since the conference’s inception, organizers have made education an integral component, with more than 1,000 participants from across the country.

The festival continues to foster mutual respect between Hispanics and non-Hispanics through the celebration of music, dance, culture, arts, family, and spirit. The weeklong conference provides three days of workshops giving participants the best the world has to offer from the music and dance of Mexico.

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

Nearby Attractions: Arizona Sonora Desert Museum, Saguaro National Park, Sabino Canyon, Pima Space & Air Museum

Recommended RV Parks: Tucson/Lazydays KOA, Tucson, Arizona, and Catalina State Park, Oro Valley, Arizona

Heaven Hill Bourbon, Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Heaven Hill Bourbon, Bardstown, Kentucky © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kentucky: 60th Kentucky Derby Festival & 141st Kentucky Derby Louisville,  April 16-May 2, 2015

The Kentucky Derby Festival is a whirlwind of 70 events starting with Thunder Over Louisville, the opening ceremonies of the two-week festival. With an estimated average attendance of half a million people, it is the largest annual event in the region, the largest annual pyrotechnics display in North America, and one of the top five air shows in the country.

Other highlights include a half and full marathon and live bed racing. The event that started it all, the Pegasus Parade marches down Broadway the Thursday before the Derby.

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

Nearby Attractions: Slugger Museum, Muhammad Ali Center, Kentucky Derby Museum, Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Recommended RV Park: Grandma’s RV Camping, Shepherdsville

Texas: Fiesta San Antonio, San Antonio, April 16-26, 2015

The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Alamo, San Antonio, Texas © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fiesta San Antonio celebrates the Alamo City’s diverse history and culture with more than 100 events over 11 days. Fiesta includes parades, parties, coronations, fashion shows, athletic events, art exhibits, and much more. Fiesta is the party with a purpose because every official event is produced by a local nonprofit that uses the proceeds from its event to fund programs year-round in the community.

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

Nearby Attractions: The Alamo, River Walk (Paseo del Rio), El Mercado, San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas BBQ

Recommended RV Park: Braunig Lake RV Resort, San Antonio

Worth Pondering…

Our nature lies in movement; complete calm is death.

—Blaise Pascal

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Hilltop RV Park Opens in Fort Stockton

Like many RVers traveling across West Texas between Las Cruces (New Mexico) and San Antonio, we often stop for a day or two at Fort Stockton.

Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)
Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)

We’ve stayed at several RV parks in this West Texas crossroads town, none of which entirely suitable for our needs.

A new RV park has recently opened on the western edge of Fort Stockton. At first glance it appears that aptly named Hilltop RV Park will not only meet but exceed our expectations.

Head west out of town on Interstate 10, and on a rise on the northern side of the highway sits Hilltop RV Park. The yellow office building sits next to a fire pit overlooking a clear, sparkling pool, which in turn overlooks a beautiful view of the vast expanse of the desert.

The park’s owners, Jim and KC Newby, have done a lot to make their business successful, starting from the selection of the absolutely perfect site.

First time visitors to Hilltop RV are blown away by the view, but it’s the logistics and the creature comforts that promise a loyal clientele, according to a report in the Fort Stockton Pioneer.

Offering 47 big-rig friendly camping sites, a fire pit for campfire get-togethers, a pool to cool off from a hot drive, and a fenced area for dogs to run, Hilltop RV Park is an example of a well designed park.

The Newbys came from Midland five years ago and originally bought the land as a home for themselves, not an RV park.

“We bought this property to build our house on because we loved the view,” KC Newby said. When she and her husband first surveyed the property, she had reservations. The land was in very bad shape, and the grounds were overgrown.

Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)
Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)

The site was previously home to the Red Barn Trailer Park, and the original building was deteriorated so badly it had to be stripped down almost to its bones.

The Newby’s didn’t realize the place had been an R.V. park until Jim found parking sites and old infrastructure on the grounds. They both saw the possibilities and set to work.

They installed sixteen RV sites first, and those filled quickly. The realized they needed to refurbish and remodel the rest of the park so they could expand their business.

They made their home on the property so they can be at their business at all times.

Once the park was up and running, it quickly began to evolve beyond what they’d first foreseen.

“Our plan was to create an overnight business,” Newby said, “and then we found out there was a need for long term.”

Many local residents work in the oil fields, with wind turbines or are land men for the oil companies, and the housing shortage in Fort Stockton and surrounding areas created a demand that Hilltop could fill. Newby estimates that about 60 percent of her residents are long term, and many stay here simply because it’s the perfect situation for them.

Residents feel safe because there is only one way in and one way out of the park, and visitors must pass directly in front of the office.

Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)
Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)

The rural setting of the park means that rabbits, roadrunners, and other wildlife are common. Guests are asked to give the animals a wide berth, and not to disturb the native plants. Part of the appeal of the park is the natural beautiful setting, and the owners want to preserve that.

For the long-term residents, it’s like living in the desert with all the comforts of town.

Guest comfort is the number one concern. Along with the comforts of the fire pit and pool, are free Internet Wi-Fi, a satellite dish and clean bathrooms and showers. There are no generators allowed, and quiet hours are between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. every day.

To avoid aggression incidents or making other guests uncomfortable, the park doesn’t allow aggressive dog breeds such as Rottweilers or pit bulls.

Hilltop RV has grown due to customer references, online reviews, and good word of mouth.

“If they stay with us once, they usually come back.” Newby said, adding that she and her husband take a lot of enjoyment from the stories and photos her guests share from the road.

People can make reservations as far as 45 days out, or while they’re on the road. Drop-ins are always welcome, if there is space.

Details

Hilltop RV Park

Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)
Hill Top RV Park is the newest RV park in Ft. Stockton. (Credit: ftstocktontexasrvpark.com)

Address: 4076 I-10 West, Fort Stockton, TX 79735

Location: I-10; Exit 256 (easy-on, easy-off)

Phone: (432) 336-6090

Website: www.ftstocktontexasrvpark.com

Texas Spoken Friendly

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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RV Around Texas

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

Our Texas RV Travel Bucket List continues.

San Antonio River Walk

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed San Antonio River Walk is 2½ miles of beautifully landscaped waterfront with hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, and shopping and is one of the main tourist attractions in the state of Texas. Historically, the waterway was used by Spanish explorers to provide water to their missions. In 1929, Robert H.H. Hugman submitted his design plans to turn the area into a beautiful urban park with apartments, dining, shopping, and boat rides.

Since 1938 the River Walk has been a hub of culture for San Antonio. You can learn about San Antonio’s history aboard a river cruise, people watch as you enjoy delicious food on many of the restaurant’s outdoor patios and simply enjoy this beautiful piece of the Lone Star State.

The World Birding Center (WBC)

The World Birding Center (WBC) is a network of nine unique birding sites in the Lower Rio Grande Valley along a 120-mile corridor following the Rio Grande from Roma to South Padre Island.

The mission of the WBC is to protect native habitat, while increasing the understanding and appreciation of birds and wildlife.

Combining Birding and Photography with our life on the road is like enjoying pecan pie with Blue Bell ice cream for dessert following a turkey feast on Thanksgiving Day! © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In addition to nearly 30 bird species found nowhere else in the US, the Lower Rio Grande Valley is home to an astonishing concentration of more widespread birds. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Drive through subtropical Texas to share the borderlands mix of Texan and Mexican heritage, and take time to look for any of the more than 500 bird species that have been documented in the region.

Three Texas state parks are part of the WBC. They contribute to the Valley’s reputation as a nature destination where visitors come from around the world. Like us, many stay for months at a time, to enjoy the climate, culture, and access to hundreds of species of winged creatures.

The WBC’s network of nine nature sites include Roma Bluffs, Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, Quinta Mazatlan, Old Hidalgo Pumphouse, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands, Estero Llano Grande State Park, Harlingen Arroyo Colorado, Resaca de la Palma State Park, and South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center.

Galveston

The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Bishop’s Palace is recognized as one of America’s finest examples of Victorian exuberance and Gilded-Age extravagance. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the oldest cities in Texas and a major port, Galveston sits on a barrier island two miles offshore, surrounded by 32 miles of sandy beaches, numerous attractions, and one of the largest and best-preserved concentrations of Victorian architecture in the United States.

Once known as “the Wall Street of the Southwest,” Galveston later became the site of the worst natural disaster in U.S. history.

But the Hurricane of 1900 changed everything. Galveston’s prosperity suddenly came to a halt on September 8, 1900, when the deadliest natural disaster in United States history hit Galveston Island.

Centerpiece of today’s city is the Victorian restoration, in which many neighborhoods have been restored to their 19th-century splendor.

Galveston boasts four districts on the National Register of Historic Places: The Strand National Historic Landmark District, East End National Historic Landmark District, Silk Stocking District, and Central Business District. Galveston is home to three National Historic Landmarks: Tall Ship Elissa, East End, and The Strand. There are approximately 1,500 historic buildings on the National Register of Historic Places.

One of the most popular of these landmark districts is The Strand National Historic Landmark District, formerly known as “Wall Street of the Southwest” and now home to more than 100 shops, antique stores, restaurants, and art galleries. The Strand has one of the largest and best preserved concentrations of Victorian, iron-front commercial architecture in the United States.

Today, this barrier island city, situated approximately 40 miles southeast of Houston, is a living history adventure.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 2 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Texas RV Travel Bucket List

Texas is big, beautiful, and diverse.

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So much has been said about Texas—its sunny seacoast to mile-high mountains, dense forests to cactus-studded desert, great cities to small villages and towns, rich and diverse history, and the hallowed Shrine that represents her birthplace.

With 267,000 square miles of amazing opportunities and unforgettable destinations, an RV visit to Texas is always exciting.

In a state as diverse as Texas, there’s always an adventure around every corner and unique attractions at every turn.

From West Texas to the Panhandle to the Gulf Coast, El Paso to Texarkana to Brownsville, from outdoor enthusiasts to foodies to culture buffs, there’s always something to see and do in Texas.

Even those of us who visit Texas frequently and spend a big chunk of our time traversing it leave most of the Lone Star State untouched.

The state overflows with awesomeness at every turn, places we find completely captivating.

These are the places on our Texas Bucket List: 10 things that every traveling Texan should do. Whittling the list to 10 was totally frustrating, so, at the end, we’re listing some other Texas travel spots we love. And, of course, because we haven’t yet been quite everywhere, we’ll keep exploring Texas — and keep letting you know about new finds.

Here, in the meantime, is our bucket list, in no particular order.

We’ll start at the hallowed Shrine that represents her birthplace.

The Alamo

 

You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.—David Crockett © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
You may all go to hell and I will go to Texas.—David Crockett © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Alamo is sacred to every Texan, and the state’s number one tourist attraction.

For 176 years, the words, “Remember the Alamo,” have inspired passions and politics. The 13-day siege resulting in a battle to the death for its defenders is truly the stuff of legends.

Entering the doors of this monumental artifact of Texas history, we couldn’t help but wonder how many truly know the saga that unfolded within the walls and under their feet? How many actually think about the struggle for freedom and liberty and the cost involved in the fight against tyranny and suppression?

The story of the birth of the Texas Republic is one of great drama and personal sacrifice.

The Alamo was defended by slightly fewer than 200 men. All were killed or executed.

The first thing many visitors notice about the Alamo is its small size, especially when compared with the buildings of the surrounding city.

Though the old Spanish mission may not be the biggest building on the block, it still casts a giant shadow across the Great State of Texas.

If you have never visited this sacred shrine, you haven’t really visited Texas. And even if you have made the pilgrimage, journey there again and walk the grounds and explore the many enclaves in reflection of the events that transpired there 176 years ago.

Remember the Alamo!

Brenham: Ice Cream Capital of Texas

What's your favorite flavor of Blue Bell ice cream? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
What’s your favorite flavor of Blue Bell ice cream? © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Brenham—Ice Cream Capital of Texas,” proclaims the giant sign at the corner of U.S. 290 and FM 577, which becomes Blue Bell Road, home to Blue Bell Creameries.

The tour begins in a small projection room with a brief, humorous video depicting the history of Blue Bell, founded in 1907 as the Brenham Creamery Company. Afterward, a guide leads visitors upstairs to watch cream transform into frozen confections. Tour-goers peer through large, glass windows that overlook the various processing areas, stainless steel vats and chutes crank out the chilly treats into paper tubs, which are loaded into boxes headed for the freezer.

Our guide mentions that less than half of Blue Bell’s 18 year-round and 24 rotating flavors are produced on a given day. On this day, we watch half-gallons of Pecan Praline, Milk Chocolate, and Rocky Road, pints of Moo-llennium Crunch, and three-gallon containers of Homemade Vanilla glide down the line, as well as the rapid assembly of ice cream sandwiches (120 made per minute).

Cravings can build, even in the quick half-hour watching workers operate vats and pack ice cream. Luckily, an ice cream parlor awaits downstairs at the end of the tour. Visitors receive a serving from their choice of 24 flavors, including the latest creations.

An extensive gift shop adjoining the parlor tempts with everything Blue Bell.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Please Note: This is part 1 of an on-going series on our Texas Bucket List

Worth Pondering…

Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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50 Things We Love About Texas

1. Texas Hospitality

2. Paso Del Rio, or River Walk, the Jewel of the City (San Antonio)

3. Fresh from the Gulf shrimp and oysters

When in the Clear Lake/Galveston area we head for Rose’s in Seabrook for a supply of shrimp. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Exploring the pine and hardwood forests of the Piney Woods of East Texas

5. Saying howdy

6. The Alamo

7. Texas’ wide open spaces

8. Hiking Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, north of Fredericksburg

9. Tex-Mex, especially in far South Texas

10. The way small-town drivers wave to everyone they pass

11. The timeless beauty of Presidio La Bahía near Goliad, and its rural setting

12. Stopping for lunch at almost any small-town BBQ joint and sitting elbow-to-elbow with folks you have little in common with except that you all love good ‘cue

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is a huge, pink granite exfoliation dome, that rises 425 feet above ground. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

13. Blue Bell Ice Cream. Wow!

14. The wind-swept, dynamic rippling sandscapes in Monahans Sandhills State Park is one-of-a-kind

15. Stopping for kolaches at a small-town bakery

16. Driving the winding road to Chisos Basin in Big Bend National Park

17. Feeling at home everywhere we go in the state

18. Bird watching in the numerous state parks and national wildlife refuges of the Rio Grande Valley

19. Chunky salsa with plenty of heat!

20. San Jacinto Battleground Monument and Battleship Texas state historic sites

21. Texas music with Willie, Waylon, and the boys…

22. Millions of gallons of crystal-clear, cold water bubbling up from the San Solomon Springs at Balmorhea State Park in West Texas

23. Tex-Mex Enchiladas

24. Exploring the pretty towns, rolling hills, wineries, dude ranches, beautiful lakes, historic attractions, and cool caves of the Hill Country

25. The wildflowers

26. Friendly Texans—who smile and never hesitate to give out directions when you’re lost

27. Touring Galveston, the “Island of Endless History”

28. Margaritas—frozen, on-the-rocks, or martini-style (with salt!)

29. Summer weather in the middle of winter

Entrance to Galveston’s Strand Historic District, the city’s primary commercial area during the second half of the 19th century, when its star was bright and full of great promise. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

30. Touring the Bluebell factory in Brenham. Especially in the spring when the wildflowers are blooming.

31. Nine-unit World Birding Center which stretches across 127 miles of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, South Padre Island northwest to Roma

32. Breakfast tacos

33. The sign in Hondo that says “This is God’s Country, Please Don’t Drive Through it Like Hell.”

34. Photogenic Guadalupe Mountains and namesake national park area earns a thumbs-up

35. Pecan pralines

36. Being amazed by the subtle colors—red, white, yellow, gray, and lavender—that arise from the claystone, sandstone, gypsum, and mudstone of the panhandle plains at Palo Duro Canyon State Park, the “Grand Canyon of Texas”

37. Shopping H-E-B (Here Everything’s Better)

38. Sense of wit that shines through in town names like Paris, Turkey, Egypt, Palestine, and Earth, as well as Uncertain, Utopia, Happy, Friendship, Veribest, and Needmore. Let’s not forget Cut and Shoot. Oh, there’s so many more!

39. Pecans and all the goodies made from them

40. Small towns decked out for Christmas

41. HEB salsa/picante sauce with the round HEB corn chips.

42. Saying Howdy and Ya’ll

43. Picturesque Rockport-Fulton and Corpus Christi on the Texas Riviera

Rockport-Fulton is an increasingly popular snowbird roost for Winter Texans. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

44. Bluebell Pecan Praline ice cream

45. Kemah Boardwalk and its Christmas Boat Parade

46. Texas ruby red grapefruit

47. A 26,800-acre cypress swamp with Spanish moss dripping from ancient cypress trees limbs, Caddo Lake may be Texas’ most magical and mysterious place

48. Touring and taste-sampling at the “Little Brewery in Shiner

49. Bandera, the “Cowboy Capital of the World” and one of the prettiest areas in the Hill Country

50. Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
Wasn’t Born in Texas, But Got Here as Fast as I Could

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: April 6

Since I like things to come in fives (and tens), here are five things YOU need to know TODAY!

1. Expanded Campground near Prescott Reopens

Massive boulders of ancient rock have weathered into delicately balanced forms and fanciful shapes, reflected in the surface of Watson Lake. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Massive boulders of ancient rock have weathered into delicately balanced forms and fanciful shapes, reflected in the surface of Watson Lake. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

City of Prescott officials are reopening the campground at Watson Lake following the addition of campsites and upgraded sites, bringing the total to 35, reports Prescott eNews.

The campground is open Thursday through Monday nights and camping costs $15 per night.

Watson Lake also offers fishing and boating with two different launch ramps and canoe and kayak rentals are available during the weekends. The lake is located in the Granite Dells area along Highway 89 in Prescott.

Click here to read more on Watson Lake and Prescott.

2. Tennessee Passes Law Requiring Carbon Monoxide Detector in Rental RVs

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law a bill to require working carbon monoxide detectors in leased recreational vehicles.

The bill was sponsored by two Clarksville Democrats, Sen. Tim Barnes and Rep. Joe Pitts, in response to the deaths of five people from carbon monoxide poisoning at a biker charity event last year, The Associated Press reported.

The measure requires all lease or rental agreements to contain a statement acknowledging that the vehicle is equipped with a working detector.

Police said the deaths were accidental after a generator was found near a vent for the trailer where the five people were sleeping. There was no working carbon monoxide detector in the trailer.

To read more on the dangers posed by carbon dioxide, click here.

3. Save with Good Sam Club Pilot Flying J RV Plus Card

Members of the Good Sam Club, the world’s largest RV owner’s organization with over 1.3 million members across North America, now enjoy a new exclusive money-saving benefit with the Good Sam Club Pilot Flying J RV Plus Card.

Good Sam Club members can apply for their Pilot Flying J RV Plus Card which will allow them to save up to $.06 on each gallon of gasoline purchased and $.08 on diesel fuel purchased; 10 cents per gallon on bulk propane purchased, and 50 percent on holding tank dump station charges at all applicable Pilot Flying J locations in the United States.

Member discount is tied to length of time as an active Good Sam Member. The longer the card holder has been active member, the larger the discount.

Click here to read more.

4. Escapees RV Club September Rally in Missouri

The Escapees RV Club, headquartered in Livingston, Texas, will host the 52nd Escapade at the Missouri State Fairgrounds in Sedalia Septenber 16-21.

A new series of seminar topics will focus on the full-time lifestyle in addition to an extensive lineup of educational workshops and lifestyle presentations for the RV enthusiast, according to a news release.

The Escapees RV Club currently has almost 60,000 members.

The gathering will also feature a number of activities, including evening entertainment, crafts sessions, line-dancing, RV driving classes, travel, computer, RV technical presentations, and daily socials.

In keeping with the Escapees mind-set of giving something back, the Club will support the Sedalia community with a food drive during the event.

In addition, Escapade delivers as much as a million dollars into the local economy while attendees shop, dine, and enjoy the charm of the local areas.

5. San Antonio River Walk: Jewel of the City

San Antonio is best known for being the Home of the Alamo and the San Antonio River, the center points of numerous activities in the downtown area. The river actually has its headwaters in northern San Antonio and travels southward through the city.

The Alamo is part of a chain of five Spanish missions that still stand along the river and served as religious institutions and economic centers 200 years ago. The five missions are somewhat connected by their proximity to the river and signage linking them along a route called the Mission Trail.

The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The River Walk has grown to a stunning eight miles and will stretch to 15 miles by 2013. Each part offers a unique look and feel. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Antonio’s Paseo del Río, or River Walk, ranks No. 1 or No. 2 each year as the most popular tourist attraction in Texas, with up to 3 million people visiting from throughout the world. The other No. 1 or No. 2 is The Alamo. It’s a moot issue really. If you travel here to take in the River Walk, you’ll almost certainly visit The Alamo, and vice versa. They’re just a couple blocks apart, connected by an “alley” with waterfalls, snazzy shops, and lush gardens.

To continue reading, click here.

Have a great weekend.

Until next time, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Worth Pondering…

For each new morning with its light,
For rest and shelter of the night,
For health and food, for love and friends,
For everything Thy goodness sends.

—Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Discover San Antonio’s Mission Trail

The chain of five missions that were established along the San Antonio River during the 18th century stands as a reminder of Spain’s most successful attempt to extend its New World influence and control. Representing both church and state, these missions were charged with converting the local Native Americans, collectively called Coahuiltecans, into devout Catholics and productive members of Spanish society.

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than just churches on the Spanish Colonial frontier, the missions also served as vocational and educational centers, economic enterprises involved in agricultural and ranching endeavors and regional trade. Missionaries taught the Coahuiltecans farming skills and gave them religious instruction.

Before the Spanish came, there were no horses in Texas and no gunfire, except for the raiding Apache. A vast frontier had never been touched by a wheel or felt the blade of an iron ax.

Among other contributions, the missions planted the roots of ranching in Texas. Indian vaqueros tended huge herds of cattle, goats, and sheep. They marked stock with branding irons like the ones used in Spain and Portugal as early as the 10th century.

Along with The Alamo, four outlying churches comprise San Antonio Missions National Historic Park. They are linked together on a driving tour called The Mission Trail. The well-marked San Antonio’s Mission Trail driving route stretches south from The Alamo for nine miles along the San Antonio River.

The world remembers The Alamo as a heroic battleground, but the other missions are tranquil shrines where the Spanish planted the seeds of San Antonio.

Signs link the other missions. Pick up a brochure that contains maps of those sites, which will prove useful as you leave one mission and follow street signs to the next in line, which is usually two or three miles away. From the Alamo southward, you’ll see Mission Concepcion, Mission San Jose, Mission San Juan, and Mission Espada. All were built between 1718 and 1731. While the Alamo is the best known, it also is the most visited and the most crowded.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s easy to spend a complete day exploring the mission compound and seeing the interpretive displays in the museums.

Details

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park

Mission Nuestra Señora de la Purisima Concepción de Acuña
This handsome stone church was dedicated in 1755, and appears very much as it did over two centuries ago. It stands proudly as the oldest non-restored stone church in America. In its heyday, colorful geometric designs covered its surface, but the patterns have long since faded or been worn away. However, original frescos are still visible in several of the rooms.

Location: 807 Mission Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78210

Click here for more information about Mission Concepción.

Mission San José y San Miguel de Aguayo

Known as “Queen of the Missions”, this is the largest of the missions and was almost fully restored to its original design in the 1930s by the WPA (Works Projects Administration). Spanish missions were not churches, but communities, with the church the focus. Mission San José shows the visitor how all the missions might have looked over 250 years ago. The park’s visitor center is located adjacent to this mission.

Note: The church at Mission San José is closed until late summer 2011 for extensive preservation work. The mission itself is open with regular programming.

Click here for more information about Mission San José.

Location: 6701 San José Drive, San Antonio, Texas, 78214

Mission San Juan Capistrano. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Originally founded in 1716 in eastern Texas, Mission San Juan was transferred in 1731 to its present location. In 1756, the stone church, a friary, and a granary were completed. A larger church was begun, but was abandoned when half complete.

Location: 9101 Graf Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78214

Click here for more information about Mission San Juan.

Mission San Francisco de la Espada

Founded in 1690 as San Francisco de los Tejas near present-day Weches, Texas, this was the first mission in Texas. In 1731, the mission transferred to the San Antonio River area and renamed Mission San Francisco de la Espada. A friary was built in 1745, and the church was completed in 1756.

Location: 10040 Espada Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78214

Click here for more information about Mission Espada.

Did You Know?
The four churches within San Antonio Missions National Historical Park are active Catholic parish churches? While they have not been in continuous operation since established in the early 1700s, many parishioners today are direct descendants of the mission Indians who built the churches.

Worth Pondering…
After 7 days of trial and error,

God created Texas on the 8th day.

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