A Walking Tour of Santa Fe: The City Different

To know the history of Santa Fe is to enhance your visit—the City Different is a confluence of its storied past and vibrant present.

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

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, we provided an historical perspective on Santa Fe, the City Different.

The center of it all, the Santa Fe Plaza. One glance tells you what sets this city apart—adobe architecture hose soft, rounded corners soothe the eye.

Want to orient yourself quickly? Take a trolley or walking tour with a professional guide. Or set out on your own. But remember to pace yourself. You’re at 7,000 feet here, so drink plenty of water.

Come with us as we take a short walk to see just where the fascination and enchantment began.

On the north side of the Santa Fe Plaza, the Palace of the Governors was laid out at the same time as the plaza. A fortified building, it served as residence, offices, workshops, and storerooms for the representative of the Spanish king; thus, they were called “royal houses.”

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

General Stephen Kearney stayed within these walls when he arrived with troops to claim the territory of New Mexico for the United States. The 54-inch-thick adobe walls, at that time still covered by a sod roof, furnished the quiet needed by Territorial Governor Lew Wallace to finish his novel Ben Hur.

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional  Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves.

Just west of here, by the golden clock, is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. A short stroll west takes you to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum.

Head east on Palace Street and duck into Sena Plaza, a hidden placita—or courtyard—just one block from the city’s plaza and just across the street from the magnificent Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assis, commonly known as St. Francis Cathedral. Note the sculpture of Kateri Tekakwitha, the first Indian to be promoted a saint.

Just west of the Palace of Governors by the golden clock is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just west of the Palace of Governors by the golden clock is the New Mexico Museum of Art whose 8,000 piece collection emphasizes 20th-century southwestern art. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Stroll on San Francisco Street to the graceful facade of La Fonda on the Plaza, Santa Fe’s most historic and authentic hotel and restaurant experience. This historic, landmark hotel sits quite literally at the terminus of the Old Santa Fe Trail. 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.

La Fonda is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. Very few hotels have such roots that go back to the 17th century! Indeed, it was also the site of one of Zsa Zsa Gabor’s many marriages—this time to Conrad Hilton in 1942.

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.

The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The staircase in the Loretta Chapel—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

As you continue you’ll discover shops and open air vendors all along your stroll, with merchandise from exquisitely tooled leather boots to replicas of Kachina dolls, from Navajo blankets to ristras—festively strung wreaths of red chilis.

For the last leg of this walk, head south on Old Santa Fe Trail to the Loretto Chapel, completed in 1878. What draws the visitor is the spiral staircase inside that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

Afterwards, continue south on the Old Santa Fe Trail to East De Vargas Street and San Miguel Mission, the oldest church in America, the key site to the Barrio de Analco Historic District. Oral history holds that San Miguel Chapel was built around 1610, and it has been rebuilt and restored several times over the past 400 years.

As you continue east De Vargas Street becomes Canyon Road, once a meandering Native American trail to Pecos Pueblo. Nestled into the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Canyon Road is a magical half-mile of over a hundred galleries, artist studios, clothing boutiques, jewelry stores, and gourmet restaurants.

Aptly named Museum Hill, two and a half miles south of the city’s plaza, is a day onto itself. Museum Hill offers a central destination for exploring some of the city’s finest museums and some of the world’s greatest collections of Native American art and artifacts. The Museum of Indian Arts & Culture, the Wheelwright Museum of the American Indian, the Museum of Spanish Colonial Art, and the Museum of International Folk Art are the major institutions located on Santa Fe’s Museum Hill.

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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Santa Fe: The City Different

There is no place like Santa Fe.

Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional  Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Now an historical museum, the Palace of Governors houses more than 1,700 artifacts. One of the best places to shop for traditional Native American jewelry is beneath its eaves. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You’ve never seen anything like this before. 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 most exotic place you can visit without crossing an ocean. The secret is in its history, the blending of three cultures—Pueblo Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo.

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 Pueblo Indian, 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.

A short stroll west of the Santa Fe Plaza takes you to the Georgia O'Keefe Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A short stroll west of the Santa Fe Plaza takes you to the Georgia O’Keefe Museum. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The history of Santa Fe is a long and rich one. Occupied for many centuries by Pueblo Indians, the Spanish conquistador Coronado claimed this land for Spain in 1540. Recaptured by the Pueblo Indians for over a century, the Spanish again took over the region in 1692 and Santa Fe developed and grew. Mexico gained its independence from Spain in the mid 1800s and with the advent of the Santa Fe Trail, American traders, trappers, and pioneers began to settle in the area.

In 1540, Francisco Vasquez de Coronado charged north from Mexico with 300 soldiers in search of the legendary Seven Golden Cities of Cibola. What he found was Zuni Pueblo, which he promptly conquered. Thus began some 200 years of alternating strife and precarious calm between the two cultures, a time marked by repeated Pueblo revolts that drove the Spanish from the area only to see them return with more soldiers and repressive measures. By the mid 1700s there existed a greater respect between the two peoples. Catholic and native religions existed side by side and the Spaniards and Pueblo people fought together against the encroaching French and Pawnees.

The center of it all is the Santa Fe Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The center of it all is the Santa Fe Plaza. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Spanish brought irrigation in the form of acequias—canals that still functions today—farms, cattle, sheep, and orchards. They practiced silver and goldsmithing, woodworking and weaving—crafts carried on today by their descendants. And in 1610, a decade before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they laid out the Santa Fe Plaza and began building the Palace of Governors. Today this is the oldest continuously occupied building in the US.

In 1821, the year that Mexico celebrated its independence from Spain, American trader William Becknell drove a wagon laden with goods into Santa Fe, making it the western terminus of the Santa Fe Trail. Americans traders and settlers soon entered the area. One of the most famous was Kit Carson who for 42 years called Taos his home.

The US was eying the territory for western expansion and in 1846, President James K. Polk declared war on Mexico. All of New Mexico was vanquished—bloodlessly—by 1,600 soldiers under the command of General Stephen Watts Kearney.

The influx of artists was the finishing stroke. What drew them here? Everywhere you look there’s a painting awaiting a canvas. Joseph Henry Sharp is usually given credit for starting the art boom who in 1883 spent the summer painting in Laos. Other artists and writers filtered into Santa Fe-Taos area including Will Shuster, Willa Cather, D.H. Lawrence, Mary Austin, and the woman perhaps most associated with New Mexico art, Georgia O’Keefe.

La Fonda on the Plaza is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
La Fonda on the Plaza is steeped in history, filled with art and offers authentic Santa Fe hospitality. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To know the history of Santa Fe is to enhance your visit—the City Different is a confluence of its storied past and vibrant present. The 400 year-old streets now glitter with galleries, shops, and restaurants.

There is so much to do and see that it is impossible to do it all in a few days or even in a few weeks.

Walking the streets of this charming city, evidence of the early Spanish influence is apparent in the historic missions and houses. But where to start?

And that my friends, is the subject of another post.

Worth Pondering…
I think New Mexico was the greatest experience from the outside world that I ever had. It certainly changed me forever….The moment I saw the brilliant, proud morning sunshine high over the deserts of Santa Fe, something stood still in my soul, and I started to attend….In the magnificent fierce morning of New Mexico one sprang awake, a new part of the soul woke up suddenly, and the world gave way to the new.

—D.H. Lawrence

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Summer Is Season of Road Trips But Where To Go?

Summer, season of road trips, is upon us. But where should we go? That, my friends, depends on you.

The Old Talbott Tavern had its share of famous guests over the years. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Old Talbott Tavern in Bardstown had its share of famous guests over the years. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With over 18,000 campgrounds, RV parks, and RV resorts, you have plenty of choices. Get out your maps and pinpoint a couple destinations—both large and small, renowned and obscure—that you think make a great spot to plot into a summer road trip plan. Be sure to include what about your pick (the food? an odd landmark? the view?) makes it so very worth the drive.

Following are four great summer destinations for RVers to make memories that will last a lifetime.

Bardstown, Kentucky

If you like visiting warm, welcoming small towns with beautiful old buildings and colorful history, you’ll love Bardstown, Kentucky. And if you favor bourbon, that’s an added bonus.

One of Bardstown’s most prominent buildings is the Old Talbott Tavern, which has offered shelter to weary travelers since 1779. Modern diners can enjoy Kentucky specialties in the same taproom where Daniel Boone, George Rogers Clark, and Abraham Lincoln once ate.

Bardstown has about 200 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places, but the two most famous are Wickland and Federal Hill. Wickland is generally regarded as one of the finest examples of Georgian architecture in the state. It’s Federal Hill, however, that has gained worldwide fame as, legend has it, the subject of composer Stephen Foster’s My Old Kentucky Home.

Monument Valley has isolated red mesas, buttes and a sprawling, sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Monument Valley has isolated red mesas, buttes and a sprawling, sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

Magnificent Monument Valley is not a national or state park but, with 91,696 acres, it is a small part of the great Navajo Nation that covers much of northeastern Arizona and stretches into Utah and New Mexico.

Navajo Tribal Park has isolated red mesas, buttes and a sprawling, sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times. Crimson mesas and surreal sandstone towers rise hundreds of feet into the air, some as tall as 1,000 feet.

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery and incredible beauty. It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless. Explore this wonderland of rocks along a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive.

Greenville, South Carolina

Falls Park on the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville'
Far more than a nature lover’s paradise, Falls Park on the Reedy, located in downtown Greenville’s Historic West End, is one of Greenville’s greatest treasures. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Located in the in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, South Carolina’s Upcountry packs plenty of alpine splendor. For starters, it’s home to the highest waterfall east of the Rockies—411-foot Whitewater Falls.

Known for its exceptional beauty, the two most distinctive natural features of downtown Greenville are its lush, tree-lined Main Street and the stunning Reedy River Falls, located in the heart of Falls Park.

Among the city’s several historic districts, the West End has developed into one of the Palmetto State’s most eclectic art districts, with buildings adapted for studio space and galleries.

Other attractions within Greenville include the Peace Center for the Performing Arts. a zoo with more than 200 animals and the Roper Mountain Science Center, which features an observatory, Sealife Room, living history farm, Discovery Room, chemistry/physic shows and a planetarium.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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

A combination of altitude, desert, and pueblos has produced a magical city that bears little resemblance to nearby Albuquerque or anywhere else for that matter.

Santa Fe is the United States’ longest continuously occupied state capital. Located high and dry in the foothills of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, this well preserved center of Southwestern art and architecture attracts visitors with its galleries, cuisine, and play of light on its adobe buildings.

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

Worth Pondering…

Happy Trails. Life is an adventure. Enjoy your journey.

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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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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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Top 5 Picks for 2015

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

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

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

Grand Canyon National Park

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Fe

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

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

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

Cajun Country

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

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

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

Grand Circle Tour

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

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

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

Blue Ridge Parkway

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

—Mark Yost

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9 Haunted Halloween Road Trip Destinations

Every town has a ghost story or two, but some places seem to attract more ghostly activity than others.

Salem Haunted HappeningsThe following four destinations are perfect choices for a spooky Halloween road trip this month.

Salem, Massachusetts

There is nowhere in the U.S. like Salem on Halloween! It’s got it all: fabulous fall foliage, New England charm, a horrifying history, and tons of Halloween events and activities.

This town was made famous by its witchcraft trials in 1692, where twenty innocent people were executed on charges of witchcraft. Salem pays tribute year-round to the history of the town with benches commemorating the dead and historic sites detailing the trials and events leading up to them.

Salem goes all out—there are haunted houses, special events at the Witch Museum, the House of Seven Gables, and the Witch House, street performers (often dressed as witches), parades, costume balls—so much is going on.

With most of the revelers dressed up in costumes, every inch of the town decorated for the holiday, and great themed events, you’ll feel like you’ve landed in Halloween Land! It truly is the most Halloween-themed of all of the Halloween destinations out there.

Tombstone, Arizona

Although Tombstone drips of tourism, there are ghost stories to be found.
Tombstone still looks the part of the Wild West when you walk down the old dirt road. Though the town shuts down early, you may be able to see where ‘the Swamper’ lived if you just ask.

The Swamper was a man in Tombstone who dug a tunnel through his living quarters into the mines to find silver. He was eventually caught and murdered.
In addition to the Swamper’s trail, visit the Bird Cage Theatre for a ghostly experience.

Sante Fe, New Mexico

There have been reports of Julia Staab descending this stairway dressed in black
There have been reports of Julia Staab descending this stairway dressed in black.

Santa Fe is full of ghosts. Some you hear about and some you don’t. One of the most famous is Julia Staab, who lives in, or more correctly, haunts the upscale hotel, La Posada. The beautiful Julia was the wife of wealthy Santa Fe merchant, Abraham Staab.

The Staabs were prosperous and abundant. They had seven children. Things went downhill when the eighth child, a son, died soon after his birth.

Reportedly, Julia went into a severe depression and may have even lost her sanity. Her hair is said to have turned white overnight. After several subsequent unsuccessful pregnancies, she took to her room and died in 1896 at the age of 52.

Julia is said to have loved her magnificent home and if you believe the stories, she is still there roaming the halls. Julia is a playful ghost and has been known to turn the faucets on in the bathrooms and move glasses around in the bar.

To read about our Ghost Walking Tour of Santa Fe, click here.

Galveston, Texas

Ashton Villa
Ashton Villa was built by James Moreau Brown, beginning in 1859. The family occupied the house by 1861. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Galveston is full of ghosts, but the best place to get a good dose of them is at the amazing Ashton Villa mansion. Built in the 1860s by James Brown, the 6,000 square foot home is one of the few historical buildings to have survived the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. Even so, the Brown family watched as the water rose up to the tenth step of the grand staircase and flowed through the house like a river. Later it served as a Confederate hospital.

Sounds attributed to the ghost of Jame’s daughter Bettie are a frequent occurrence. Sometimes visitors on tour will hear her playing the piano. Beds will unmake themselves and chests will randomly lock and unlock. Some people claim to have witnessed ghost soldiers marching through the house. A caretaker once reported waking up in the night and witnessing a conversation from the past about marriage from two ghosts, and furniture will sometimes move.

Note: Ashton Villa is now home to the Galveston Island Visitor Information Center

More Haunted Destinations

Here are five additional spooky Halloween holiday destinations.

LanternResvFormLogoIn Decatur, Illinois, the ghosts of bootleggers and theater stagehands haunt buildings throughout the city.

In Athens, Ohio, a former mental hospital is packed with the ghosts of disgruntled patients.

And in Paulding, Michigan, locals report a mysterious phenomenon called the Paulding Light.

The religious separatist community of Zoar, Ohio, disbanded in the late 1800s—but resident spirits remain, at least according to guides with Lantern Tour of the Ghosts of Zoar, who lead haunted walks through town on Fridays and Saturdays through November 1.

Add some extra chills to an already thrilling zipline experience at ZipZone Canopy Tours near Columbus, Ohio. Freaky Flight Nights run Tuesday through Friday, October 28-31, at ZipZone, located at Camp Mary Orton near Worthington.

There is a cursed locale somewhere near you. So, pull out your costume , dust off your GPS, and grab a bag of fun-size candy bars for the road—it’s time for a haunted Halloween road trip!

Be safe and responsible during Halloween fun and travels.

Worth Pondering…

‘Tis now the very witching time of night,
When churchyards yawn and hell itself breathes out
Contagion to this world.
—William Shakespeare

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50 Amazing Places to RV

You might have seen it on a shelf and thought, “I should pick that up.”

The 17th-Century English Village is a re-creation of the small farming and maritime community built by the Pilgrims* along the shore of Plymouth Harbor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The 17th-Century English Village is a re-creation of the small farming and maritime community built by the Pilgrims* along the shore of Plymouth Harbor. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It’s the national bestseller, “1,000 Places to See Before You Die.”

Sometimes the best adventures are those in your own backyard.

Here, in alphabetical order, are 50 things to do or see in your RV before you die:

Plimoth Plantation, Massachusetts

A living history museum in Plymouth, Plimoth Plantation depicts the original settlement of the Plymouth Colony established in the 17th century by English colonists. Visitors relive the past by experiencing a living museum that showcases the distinct lives of two cultures that came together during the 1600s.

The interaction between guests and the current day Wampanoag and people playing the part of the original English colonists, provides keen insight into life in Plymouth during the times of early colonial life, and uneasy, yet respectful, relationship that existed between the colonists and the native Wampanoag.

Quartzsite, Arizona

A dusty destination in the middle of nowhere—but, come January, the little town of Quartzsite transforms into the vendor capital of the world and becomes the largest gathering of RVs and RVers on the planet.

This sleepy Arizona town has become famous for luring snowbirds who like to browse amid RVs and RV products, gems and minerals, crafts and hobby items—and the “mother of all swap meets.”

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Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

A mere two-hour drive from Denver, Trail Ridge Road takes visitors into the heart of Rocky Mountain National Park, traversing a ridge above 11,000 feet for 10 miles. Along the way, tiny tundra flowers and other wild blooms contrast with sweeping vistas of towering summits; 78 of them exceed 12,000 feet. Alpine lakes reflect the grandeur.

On a one-day blitz from the East Entrance, drive Trail Ridge Road as far as Farview Curve for the classic overview of the park’s mountains, valleys, and tundra, then double back and take Bear Lake Road to see a collection of scenic lakes

Saguaro National Park, Arizona

An Arizona highlight is a visit to Saguaro National Park near Tucson—the only place in the United States where unique “man-shaped” saguaro cacti grow. The towering saguaros which can grow up to 50 feet in height are the highlight of this national park, of course.

Tucson, Arizona is home to North America’s largest Cacti. The Giant Saguaro is the universal symbol of the American West. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The scenery is spectacular and captures the beauty that is so unique to the region. Saguaro National Park is divided into two segments in Tucson: Saguaro East (Rincon Mountain District) and Saguaro West (Tucson Mountain District).

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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.

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Sedona, Arizona

Nestled within the red rocks, Sedona attracts four million new and returning visitors each year, making it the second-most-visited place in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Nestled within the red rocks, Sedona attracts four million new and returning visitors each year, making it the second-most-visited place in Arizona, after the Grand Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders.

Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations in the U.S. 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.

Sedona’s mesmerizing red-rock country is unique to the world. The Sedona community offers so much—history, archeology, arts, culture, hiking, biking, off-road adventure, and spiritual and metaphysical meditations.

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Please Note: This is Part 7 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

People travel to wonder at the height of the mountains, at the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering.

—Saint Augustine

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Historic Walks of Santa Fe

Walking tours with professional guides leave most of the major hotels every day.

Santa Fe Ghost Tour

Pointing dramatically across the St. Frances Hotel lobby to the Ore House on the Plaza Restaurant, Marilyn launched into her first tale. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For an hour or so at twilight we took a short walk into Santa Fe’s less well known past, a past filled with mysteries, unanswered questions, and the not quite dead. It was a fun walk, including visits to many of the buildings and places where unexplainable things have happened, and are still happening, with the story behind the events. It was a lighthearted but thought provoking look into the inevitable result of 400 years of Spanish folklore, encircled by 1,700 years of Pueblo tradition, both surrounded by Apache, Navajo, and Comanche, topped off with the Wild West.

We met in the lobby of the St. Frances Hotel for the Aspook About, a Ghost Walking Tour of Santa Fe, when suddenly, a one-woman cyclone whirled into our midst. It was Marilyn, our guide.

Marilyn Adams, our “intrepid tour guide”, was quite something. An aging but spritely actress, she took great pleasure in leaping off the sidewalk whenever we came to a halt, waving her arms about, a clipboard firmly in her grasp. She must be a regular sight in these parts as passing cars seem to know to give her a wide berth. We trailed along behind her, hearing stories of bloodshed and trauma.

On the Old Santa Fe Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Pointing dramatically across the St. Frances Hotel lobby to the Ore House on the Plaza Restaurant, she launched into her first tale.

It seems a young couple had just seated when the guy stared wild-eyed at something just beyond his girlfriend’s shoulder and began screaming, “Tell that woman to get away from me! Tell her to get away!” His girlfriend began to panic as well and the guests at the surrounding tables reared back like spooked horses. Desperate, their waiter stood in the spot, passing his hand back and forth through the empty air. Immediately, as if awakened from a spell, the man’s face calmed and he said, “Well, I think we’ll have our menus now.”

Marilyn paused a beat. “Shall we be out the door?” she sweeps us down Burro Alley, recounting tales of burros once bustling there, there ghostly hooves echoing down the centuries, best heard “at that marvelous witching-hour time between three and four in the morning.”

On to the Palace Restaurant, our guide paints an enthusiastically vivid imagination of its original owner, La Doña Tulis, a garish dresser who smoked stubby little cigars and who, “well, wasn’t very ladylike.”

We troop into the restaurant behind Marilyn to gawk at Doña’s portrait, hear of her scandalous life and, eventually, her restaurant’s sad decline. “Nowadays, on certain cold, bitter nights—preferably nights with a little snow in the air—if you glance in, you just might see a woman looking very much like Doña sitting at the end of the bar, disappointedly nursing a drink—but don’t look directly at her! Or she’ll disappear.”

The city's most famous ghost is Julia Staab whose Victorian home, the Staab House, is now part of La Posada Hotel. Her painting still hangs in the hotel and Marilyn regales us with a first hand account of meeting Julia in what was her bedroom when she was alive. (Credit: legendsofamerica.com)

As we wended our way across the Plaza and beyond, more stories of the weird, the inexplicable, ensued: stories of echoing footsteps in the middle of the night that stop when you stop, stories of the unrequited love, of copious tears being cried into “a white linen serviette” at the corner table (“and now, quite often, someone finds a serviette upon its service. Crumpled. Dampish with tears.”)

I won’t give away Marilyn’s piece de resistance.

Hint: It involves the ghost of La Posada’s Julia Staab. And—Marilyn has actual photos.

Note: This is the final of a four-part series on Santa Fe, New Mexico

Part 1: The City Different: Santa Fe, NM

Part 2: Historically Significant Santa Fe

Part 3: The City of Holy Faith: Santa Fe

Worth Pondering…
For all of us have our loved places; all of us have laid claim to parts of the earth; and all of us, whether we know it or not, are in some measure the products of our sense of place.

—Alan Gussow

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The City of Holy Faith: Santa Fe

The Institute of American Indian Arts Museum, to the east of the Palace of the Governors, offers the National Collection of Contemporary Indian Art and a spectacular sculpture garden.

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

Two blocks south of the plaza is the San Miguel Mission Church. One of the oldest churches in America, this buttressed adobe building is a favorite with photographers who can snap away both indoors and out.

A block east of Santa Fe Plaza is St. Francis Cathedral, named for Santa Fe’s patron saint, St. Francis of Assisi.

The cathedral was built in French Renaissance style and was the design and dream of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy. Built between 1869 and 1886, this structure replaced an older adobe church built after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. In the small chapel to the left of the Cathedral altar is a very beautiful willow sculpture of the Madonna called La Conquistadora. She is the oldest religious statue in the United States and is an enduring treasure and symbol of the Spanish heritage of Santa Fe. La Conquistadora has a wardrobe of over 160 garments, some of which were gifts from Indian Pueblos, the Pope, and the King of Spain.

Continuing past the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assis to the south, and behind La Fonda on the Plaza, is a small one-way street, Water Street. Go west one block to the intersection of Water and Old Santa Fe Trail. There stands a small chapel also built under the auspices of Archbishop Lamy.

The Loretto Chapel with its Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It is a copy of his original parish church in Paris, La Sainte Chapelle. This Neo-Gothic chapel was built for the students of the Loretto Academy which was the first girls’ parochial school in Santa Fe.

When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, its quarried stone facade and elegant stained glass stood out from the adobe churches common in this frontier town.

What draws the visitor is the spiral staircase inside that leads to the choir loft. The chapel’s small sized made access to the loft possible only by ladder.

When none of the local carpenters could build a staircase that wouldn’t encroach on the limited floor space, the Sisters prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Soon a mysterious stranger arrived, looking for work, and built an elegant spiral staircase. Without presenting any bill for payment, he disappeared as suddenly as he had come. The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. The identity of the builder remains unknown.

In between and around these destinations near the plaza are shops with merchandise in all price ranges; art galleries showcasing art from around the world; and restaurants whose menus reflect the many cultures represented here.

Continuing south on Old Santa Fe Trail there is a simple but beautiful adobe church, the San Miguel Mission. It is the oldest church in the United States, built between 1610 and 1626. The church was built for the Indian slaves that the Spanish had brought with them. from Mexico. This part of town is called the Barrio de Analco, a charming area to explore, and is now home to many interesting galleries, restaurants, and shops dealing in Indian arts.

The staircase—with two 360-degree turns, no visible means of support, and without the benefit of nails—has been called the Miraculous Staircase. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Parking that can accommodate vehicles of all sizes is available in city lot 9 at Alameda, west of Paseo de Peralta. The parking lot is only two short blocks from the Santa Fe Plaza.

A visit to Santa Fe is not complete without a trip along Canyon Road. The narrowness of this road is a reminder of its past, for at one time it was a principal route from the Rio Grande to the Pecos area. The buildings are full of galleries featuring a variety of fine art. The galleries, along with the many others in Santa Fe, have made the city the second largest art market in the U.S.

Do not attempt to drive a recreational vehicle down Canyon Road, as it is far too narrow.

If you are traveling to Santa Fe from the south via Interstate 25, you can stop at the La Bajada State Visitor Information Center, 17 miles south of town, for maps, directions, and brochures. Similar information is available from the Santa Fe Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Note: This is the third of a four-part series on Santa Fe, New Mexico

Part 1: The City Different: Santa Fe, NM

Part 2: Historically Significant Santa Fe 

Final article in the series: Historic Walks of Santa Fe

Worth Pondering…
Whoever designed the streets in Santa Fe must have been drunk, and riding backwards on a mule.

—Will Rogers

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