Nothing Behind Me, Everything Ahead Of Me On The Great American Road Trip

One of the most quintessentially American experiences is the road trip.

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

What is it about road trips? The adventure? The unknown?

Maybe Jack Kerouac nailed it in his highway-focused tome On the Road when he wrote, “Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road”.

Undecided about your RV vacation? Here are four tips to make your road trip a fantastic experience.

Skyline Drive, Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Skyline Drive, the 105-mile road that bisects the length of Shenandoah National Park winding along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains provides stunning views of the park’s mountains, valleys, and forests.

Skyline Drive is the only public road through the park and offers 75 overlooks with breathtaking views of the Shenandoah Valley to the west and the Piedmont area to the east. The long, narrow park flows outward, upward, and downward from the highway that splits it.

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

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

West Texas & Big Bend

Nothing beats the West Texas sky when the clouds roll in. Or when the sun sets. Or when the stars come out. Take a tour of Big Bend National Park, Marathon, Alpine, Marfa, Fort Davis, and Balmorhea State Park.

Big Bend is a stunning mix of topography and ecosystems from the rugged Chisos Mountains and the Chihuahuan Desert to the verdant banks of the Rio Grande River.

Lying some 36 miles to the north, the tiny community of Marathon is dotted with adorable old-timey eateries and other super Texas-y things. Check out the historic and beautiful Gage Hotel and Shirley Burn’t Biscuit Bakery, a Marathon institution providing fresh baked goods daily.

A remote, high-desert jewel nestled in the tall hills of West Texas, Alpine is a friendly, bustling community of a little over 5,000 people in a scenic valley that feels like nowhere else in the state.

Marfa has long been known for its art-world, off-beat cool factor, a mix of kitsch and bizarre; the Marfa Lights Festival kicks off on the Labor Day weekend (29th annual; September 4-6, 2015).

Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Red Rock Scenic Byway Visitor Information Center © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fort Davis is pure Texas, as genuine as the working cattle ranches on the outskirts of town. The area’s lively military history is preserved at Fort Davis National Historic Site. An internationally known attraction, the McDonald Observatory is a 17 mile drive up a pretty canyon north of town.

Don’t miss Balmorhea an oasis in the desert north of Big Bend. The San Soloman Springs feed the swimming pool, keeping the water at a refreshing 74 degrees.

Red Rock Scenic Byway, Arizona

Red Rock Scenic Byway winds through Sedona’s Red Rock Country, often called a “museum without walls.”

This highly acclaimed National Scenic Byway, begins shortly after you exit #298 off I-17 and has earned the distinction of being Arizona’s First All-American Road. Although the Scenic Byway is only 7.5 miles, it is long on spectacular sights.

Sedona’s Red Rocks are comprised of sediment layers deposited over many millions of years. The shale foundation is the remainder of ancient swamp lands. Other layers are the remainder of an ancient beachfront that deposited iron about 275 million years ago. This iron is what gives Sedona’s rocks their rich red color.

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina and Tennessee

Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Cherohala Skyway National Scenic Byway, North Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Cherohala Skyway crosses through the Cherokee National Forest in Tennessee and the Nantahala National Forest in North Carolina. The name “Cherohala” comes from the names of the two National Forests: “Chero” from the Cherokee and “hala” from the Nantahala.

Located in southeast Tennessee and southwest North Carolina, the Skyway connects Tellico Plains, Tennessee, with Robbinsville, North Carolina, and is about 40+ miles long. The elevations range from 900 feet above sea level at the Tellico River in Tennessee to over 5,400 feet above sea level at the Tennessee-North Carolina state line at Haw Knob.

Worth Pondering…

When Robert Frost declared his intention to take the road less traveled in his 1916 poem “The Road Not Taken,” who could have guessed that so many people would take the same trip?

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Fall RV Camping: 3 Colorful Destinations

As summer comes to a close, the bright blues and greens that characterize the season are replaced by a deeper, more vibrant palette. As the trees start to don their bright fall colors, the best time of year for viewing the foliage is just ahead.

beauty of Shenandoah National Park
Fall is everyone’s favorite season to visit Shenandoah. The renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive offers a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and gold. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nothing says “family camping” like fall in the air. There’s a crisp crackle outside and a coolness that feels like sweater weather. Fall camping can be just as much fun as summer camping, so this season take the family out for a few more camping trips before you prepare your RV for the winter.

Visiting national parks tops the list of reasons why many of us chose the RV lifestyleGreat Smoky Mountains National Park is the most-visited park in the National Park System and home to the largest stands of old growth forests in the Eastern U.S. Varying hues of gold, amber, reds, and even purples are mixed in with the dwindling greens of maples, beech, oaks, and the other hardwood species that make the season so colorful.

The twisting, scenic mountain road that leads out of the eastern edge of Great Smoky—the 469-mile Blue Ridge Parkway—is a destination unto itself. The north end of this vista-filled parkway ends in Virginia’s 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.

Fall is everyone’s favorite season to visit Shenandoah. The renowned and spectacular Skyline Drive offers a kaleidoscope of red, yellow, and gold each year from about mid-October to mid-November. The endless rolling ridges of brightly colored trees never fails to excite.

The rule of thumb is that colors generally peak in Shenandoah during the last half of October.

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

Autumn is also a great time to visit Sedona, renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. The explosion of brilliant fall colors signals the best time to take a scenic drive up and down Sedona’s Oak Creek Canyon. Autumn in Sedona usually begins in early October and crescendos into the full brilliance of reds, yellows, and golden hues from the middle to end of October. The show is usually over by mid-November.

Other points of interests in the area include Montezuma Castle National Monument including Montezuma Well, a detached unit of the park, and Tuzigoot National Monument, one of the largest pueblos built by the Sinagua.

Kentucky’s vast expanses of forested terrain make it one of the best places in the U.S. to enjoy nature’s spectacular display of fall color. About 12 million acres—47 percent of Kentucky’s land area—are forested, and some 175 tree species grow wild in the state. Kentucky is rich in hardwood forests populated by trees known for their bright fall colors.

Kentucky Welcome Center
Kentucky Welcome Center, I-65, Exit 114 © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take a scenic drive in Daniel Boone National Forest in eastern Kentucky. At the northern end, explore the Red River Gorge and Zilpo Scenic Byways, while the southern end boasts the Wilderness Road Heritage Highway.

Among the most scenic routes in western Kentucky is the Woodlands Trace National Scenic Byway in Land Between The Lakes National Recreation Area. In central Kentucky, fall is an ideal time to take the Bluegrass Country Driving Tour, which winds past horse farms with their wooden and stone fences underneath a canopy of many-colored leaves.
You won’t find a better venue than Bernheim Forest near Clermont from which to admire the sculptural grace of mature trees in a natural setting. Stroll the paths or hike the trails and take in colorful fall displays that include maples, dogwoods, magnolias, conifers, cypresses, hollies, beeches, and buckeyes.

The color changes usually begin as early as September in the higher elevations of the eastern mountains and gradually progress to the west during October and into early November.

For information about RV parks and campgrounds, check out Good Sam RV Travel Guide and Campground Directory.

Worth Pondering…

Country Roads

Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River
Life is old there, older than the trees
Younger than the mountains, blowing like a breeze

Country roads, take me home
To the place, I be-long
West Virginia, mountain momma
Take me home, country roads.
—John Denver

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National Parks Impact Local Economies

National park visitors contributed $26.5 billion to the nation’s economy and supported almost 240,000 jobs in 2013, according to a peer-reviewed report.

salt flats at Badwarwe Basin
Walk onto the crusted salt flats at Badwarwe Basin (Death Valley National Park) for a short distance to enjoy the expansive views up and down the valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“National parks are often the primary economic engines of many park gateway communities,” said National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis, in a news release.

“While park rangers provide interpretation of the iconic natural, cultural, and historic landscapes, nearby communities provide our visitors with services that support hundreds of thousands of mostly local jobs.”

National park visitation for 2013 declined by 3.2 percent compared to 2012. The 16-day government shutdown last October accounted for most of the decline. National parks in the Northeast, closed for Hurricane Sandy-related repairs, were the other significant brake on visitation.

Visitor spending for 2013 was down by 1 percent. The number of jobs supported by visitor spending was off by 2.1 percent, and the overall effect on the U.S. economy was 1 percent lower than the previous year due to adjustments for inflation.

“The big picture of national parks and their importance to the economy is clear,” Jarvis said. “Every tax dollar invested in the National Park Service returns $10 to the U.S. economy because of visitor spending in gateway communities near the 401 parks of the National Park System.”

Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Just when you think you’ve seen as much color and sculptured rock for­mations Mother Nature can create, you enter Bryce Canyon for yet anoth­er brilliant and stunning display. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Jarvis said visitation so far this year indicates a rebound from 2013 and he expects a steady increase as excitement grows in advance of the 2016 centennial of the National Park Service.

The annual report, 2013 National Park Visitor Spending Effects, was prepared by economists Catherine Cullinane Thomas and Christopher Huber of the U.S. Geological Survey and Lynne Koontz of the National Park Service. It includes information by park and by state on visitor spending within 60 miles of a national park, jobs supported by visitor spending, and other statistics.

According to the 2013 report, most park visitor spending was for lodging (30.3 percent) followed by food and beverages (27.3 percent), gas and oil (12.1 percent), admissions and fees (10.3 percent), and souvenirs and other expenses (10 percent).

The largest jobs categories supported by visitor spending were restaurants and bars (50,000 jobs) and lodging (38,000 jobs).

Total recreation visits and total visitor spending ($000s) in selected National Park Service sites follow:

Arches National Park, Utah: 1,082,866; $120,171.7

Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah: 1,311,875; $105,705.8

Carlsbad Canyon National Park, New Mexico: 388,565; $23,589.7

Death Valley National Park, California: 951,973; $75,255.1

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona and Utah: 1,991,925; $115,593.6

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona: 4,564,841; $476,194.8

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, North Carolina and Tennessee: 9,354,695; $734,086.6

Joshua Tree National Park, California: 1,383,341; $62,929.9

Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California's southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation.
Two desert systems, the Mojave and the Colorado, abut within Joshua Tree, dividing California’s southernmost national park into two arid ecosystems of profoundly contrasting appearance. The key to their differences is elevation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Lake Mead National Recreation Area, Arizona and Nevada: 6,344,714; $260,500.1

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: 460,237; $45,089.8

Padre Island National Seashore, Texas: 515,381; $20,967.0

San Antonio Missions National Historic Park, Texas: 521,705; $28,576.1

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia:1,136,505; $72,402.6

Yellowstone National Park, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming: 3,188,030; $381,762.7

Yosemite National Park, California: 3,691,192; $373,269.8

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

Zion National Park, Utah: 2,807,387; $147,501.9

Details

National Park Service

Since 1916, the American people have entrusted the National Park Service with the care of their national parks. With the help of volunteers and park partners, the park service is proud to safeguard these special places and to share their stories with more than 275 million visitors every year.

More than 20,000 National Park Service employees care for America’s 401 national parks and work with communities across the nation to help preserve local history and create close-to-home recreational opportunities.

Website: www.nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Best National Parks To Visit This Spring

Spring brings a fresh start, a chance to put away layers of clothes and roam free and easy.

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And there’s no better place to find renewal than a national park, our unbeatable natural treasures.

Spring brings a renewal, warmer temperatures, fields of wildflowers, and blessedly few crowds.

Following are four of the best national parks for springtime revelry, from Virginia to Wyoming to Arizona.

Now it’s your turn to start planning a trip.

Shenandoah National Park

As springtime helps Shenandoah National Park come to life, those who visit will take away a deeper appreciation for its diversity of flora and fauna. With nearly 200,000 forested acres, Shenandoah National Park is most popular during the fall foliage. Spring sees some of the fewest visitors, but perhaps the most unique beauty thanks to park’s 850 species of flowering plants.

While some visitors choose a scenic drive along Skyline Drive, others opt to explore meadows and forests by foot with every turn revealing a new color, new sound, and new sight.

The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on Earth. Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains, which became a junction of southern and northern flora. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Smoky Mountains are among the oldest on Earth. Ice Age glaciers stopped their southward journey just short of these mountains, which became a junction of southern and northern flora. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visitor facilities and services re-open for the year in March, and the wildflower display begins in early April, continuing to summer. Pink azaleas bloom in May closely followed by mountain laurel in June.

Yellowstone National Park

The roads at Yellowstone National Park are first plowed in late March, and bit by bit the park opens up, ending with Beartooth Highway in early June. The road to Mammoth Springs near the north entrance is the first area to open up—usually in March. The road to Old Faithful is usually open by mid-April. This early in the spring, snow still covers the ground and night temperatures fall below freezing.

As the snow melts, the rivers swell, and the trails open up. If you go early in the season, you’ll have to play your choices by ear. But you’ll be in Yellowstone. The scenery will still be magnificent, and the world-famous wildlife-viewing opportunities will still abound. Watch out for elk, bears, deer, bison, smaller mammals, birds, and more.

Wildflowers, a favorite spring rejuvenator, are a major draw to the grasslands of Pelican Valley and Hayden Valley, as well as the desert sagebrush regions near the north entrance. And as the higher trails open up, early summer wildflowers appear in the higher climes.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Great Smoky Mountains National Park, which straddles the border between North Carolina and Tennessee, is both the most-visited national park in the country and the most abundantly blessed with 1,500 species of flowering plants, more than any other national park.

Springtime flowers include trilliums, phacelia, violets, lady’s slippers, jack-in-the-pulpits, and showy orchids. The viewing window for the latter is brief — mid-April to mid-May in the forests, mid-June to mid-July on the higher slopes — so go sooner rather than later.

The milder temperatures and reduced haze in spring make for ideal visiting conditions.

Saguaro National Park

The park is named after the Saguaro cactus, which blooms brilliant in the burgeoning heat of spring.

Halved by the city of Tucson, Saguaro National Park is really two parks in one. The Rincon Mountains are perhaps the most prominent wilderness on the east side of the park. The Tucson Mountains are where you go to get away from it all in the West.

Unique to the Sonoran Desert, the park’s giant saguaros sometimes reach as much as 50 feet in height – so it’s no wonder they’ve been described as the kings of the Sonoran Desert.
Unique to the Sonoran Desert, the park’s giant saguaros sometimes reach as much as 50 feet in height – so it’s no wonder they’ve been described as the kings of the Sonoran Desert. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro is a great hiking park. Some 128 miles of trail explore it, with the usual full range of difficulty levels and length.

Among the satisfyingly adapted plants to experience are the leguminous mesquites and paloverdes, pears, chollas, hedgehog cacti, creosote bushes, ocotillos, and catclaws. April to June is cactus flowering season with saguaro blooming at its peak in May and June.

Saguaro flowers bloom for less than 24 hours. They open at night and remain open through the next day.

Hundreds of bird species either pass through the park or live here year-round. The reptiles and small animals bring a close-to-the-ground dimension to the park. And close-to-the-ground is frequently the most fascinating place of all.

Worth Pondering…

Can words describe the fragrance of the very breath of spring?
―Neltje Blachan

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10 Spectacular National Parks for Camping

Camping in America’s national parks allows a visitor to more fully appreciate the beauty of America’s natural treasures.

If you’re in search of a camper’s delight, these are the best national parks for you.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona/Utah

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based & backcountry recreation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing over 1.2 million acres, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers unparalleled opportunities for water-based and backcountry recreation. The recreation area stretches for hundreds of miles from Lees Ferry in Arizona to the Orange Cliffs of southern Utah, encompassing scenic vistas, geologic wonders, and a vast panorama of human history.

Lees Ferry Campground offers 55 developed camping sites; no hookups available.

Primitive Camping is available at Stanton Creek, Hite, Farley Canyon, and Dirty Devil.

Lone Rock Beach is a beach camping area

Additional developed campgrounds are operated by Lake Powell Resorts & Marinas, are available at Wahweap, Bullfrog, and Halls Crossing.

Continue reading →

Big Bend National Park, Texas

Located in the southwest corner of Texas where the Rio Grande makes its “big bend” of a ­turn from south to north along the Mexican border, Big Bend National Park is a scenic blend of desert, mountain, and river environments. The peaks are the Chisos and the desert, the Chihuahuan stretching deep into Mexico.

The National Park Service operates three developed front country campgrounds: Chisos Basin Campground, Cottonwood Campground (near Castolon), and Rio Grande Village Campground.

Shenandoah National Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Shenandoah National Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The concession-operated Rio Grande Village RV Campground offers full hook-ups.

A limited number of campsites in Rio Grande Village and the Chisos Basin campgrounds are can be reserved from November 15-April 15.

Continue reading →

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn.

There are four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park: Mathews Arm (mile 22.1), Big Meadows (mile 51.2), Lewis Mountain (mile 57.5), and Loft Mountain (mile 79.5).

Although Shenandoah National Park doesn’t have a campground that is just for RVs, it does have three campgrounds that will accommodate large RVs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain campgrounds have pull-through and deep back-in sites which can accommodate an RV with a tow vehicle. Although hookups are not available, the campgrounds do have potable water and dump stations (with the exception of Lewis Mountain Campground).

Continue reading →

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls, © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo.

The campground, located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. Sites are of varying length and suitable for RVs up to 40 feet in length. Each site includes a parking space, picnic table, and grill. There are 3 restroom facilities that include sinks and flushable toilets, but no showers. No hookups are available, but a dump station is located in Loop 1. Limited services are available during winter months.

Continue reading →

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series

Part 1: Top 10 National Parks for Camping

Part 2: Best 10 National Parks for Camping

Worth Pondering…

We simply need that wild country available to us, even if we never do more than drive to its edge and look in, for it can be a means of reassuring ourselves of our sanity as creatures, a part of the geography of hope.

—Wallace Stegner

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America’s Top 50 RV Destinations

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

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © 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:

Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California

A land of giants, this landscape testifies to nature’s size, beauty, and diversity—huge mountains, rugged foothills, deep canyons, vast caverns, and the world’s largest trees.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks lie side by side in the southern Sierra Nevada, east of the San Joaquin Valley. Visitor activities vary by season and elevation (1,370 to 14,494 feet).

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn.

Continue reading →

Shiner’s Spoetzl Brewery, Texas

The Spoetzl Brewery is now the oldest independent brewery in Texas and still brews every drop of Shiner Beer from its “little brewery” in Shiner. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled below the triangle of Houston, Austin, and San Antonio is the old Czech-German town of Shiner, home to a beer by the same name crafted at the 103-year-old Spoetzl Brewery. Carrying a family recipe for a Bavarian beer made from pure malt and hops, Spoetzl produced beer in wooden kegs and bottles.

Tours offer a chance to see where and how Shiner beer is made and taste a sample or two of the stuff.

Continue reading →

Wall Drug Store, South Dakota

At the other end of South Dakota’s I-90 corridor from the Corn Palace, Wall Drug is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon—a wayside stop that just kept growing and growing. It all began in the Depression, when nearby Mount Rushmore was still under scaffolding, years away from attracting travelers to this middle-of-nowhere burg. Desperate for business, Wall Drug’s owners, Ted and Dorothy Hustead, put up signs on the highway advertising free ice water to thirsty travelers. Motorists poured in—and they’re still arriving.

Yosemite National Park, California

Located 195 miles east of San Francisco, Yosemite National Park has close to 1,200 miles to explore. The World Heritage site is famous for its waterfalls, especially Yosemite Falls, the largest in North America. The falls’ water flow is powered by snowmelt, so visit before the end of summer when the temperature heats up and the flow is at its max.

Zion National Park, Utah

With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In the heart of desert slot canyon territory in southwestern Utah is the most awe-inspiring place on the planet: Zion National Park. With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American Southwest just standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.

Continue reading →

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

Worth Pondering…

I dream of southern skies.

Cajun cookin’.

Tee offs in Tijuana.

Juleps in Jacksonville.

My reality is a daily commute that begins each day at six a.m.

Road rage.
Traffic tie-ups.

Cranky commuters.
The pathos of Dilbert’s world.

—Lisa Paradis

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Top 10 National Parks: Is Your List Better Than Mine?

People like lists. No, check that, they love them. Particularly when they disagree with them and think they have a better list. So, here’s my personal Top 10 list of national parks.

How does it match up with yours?

10. Canyon de Chelly National Monument (Arizona)

Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Spider Rock, the unofficial symbol of Canyon de Chelly, is a sandstone obelisk that rises more than 800 feet from the canyon floor at the junction of Canyon de Chelly and Monument Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has sheer sandstone walls rising up to 1,000 feet, scenic overlooks, well-preserved Anasazi ruins, and an insight into the present day life of the Navajo, who still inhabit and cultivate the valley floor.

The northernmost and southernmost edges are accessible from paved roads—the North and South Rim drives. The South Rim Drive offers the most dramatic vistas, ending at the most spectacular viewpoint, the overlook of Spider Rocks—twin 800 foot towers of rock isolated from the canyon walls and a site of special significance for the Navajo. Beyond the rocks, the main canyon continues unseen for many miles.

Since Canyon de Chelly lies on Navajo land, unsupervised access is restricted to the rim overlooks and to a single trail into the canyon, leading to the White House Ruins, as for all other trips down or along the canyon, a Navajo escort is required.

Continue reading →

9. Shenandoah National Park

Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shenandoah National Park is a beautiful, historic national treasure which includes the scenic 105-mile long Skyline Drive—a designated National Scenic Byway. The Park covers the crest of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains for over seventy-five miles.

The Native Indians named the valley Shenandoah, mean­ing Daughter of the Stars, for the expansive firmament that roofed their world. Daylight vistas of gently slop­ing mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are equally sparkling.

As each season arrives, and the changing leaves hit their peak of rich color, the expansive views become a tapestry of lush green in spring and summer to red, yellow, and orange in autumn. Along the way, milepost markers help you identify your surroundings—and find the perfect place to pull over and enjoy the panoramic views.

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8. Carlsbad Caverns National Park

The Chihuahuan Desert, studded with spiky plants and lizards, offers little hint that what Will Rogers called the “Grand Canyon with a roof on it” waits underground. Yet, at this desert’s northern reaches, underneath the Guadalupe Mountains, lies one of the deepest, largest, and most ornate caverns ever found.

Water molded this underworld four to six million years ago. Some 250 million years ago, the region lay underneath the inland arm of an ancient sea. Near the shore grew a limestone reef. By the time the sea withdrew, the reef stood hundreds of feet high, later to be buried under thousands of feet of soil.

Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Guided tours of varying difficulties in Carlsbad Cavern and other park caves are available. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Some 15 to 20 million years ago, the ground uplifted. Naturally occurring sulfuric acid seeped into cracks in the limestone, gradually enlarging them to form a honeycomb of chambers. Millions of years passed before the cave decoration began. Then, drop by drop, limestone-laden moisture built an extraordinary variety of glistening formations—some six stories tall; others tiny and delicate.

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7. Zion National Park

In the heart of desert slot canyon territory in southwestern Utah is the most awe-inspiring place on the planet: Zion National Park. With the competition Zion faces from its neighboring national parks in the American Southwest just standing out in this esteemed crowd would seem to require some noteworthy scenery. Zion delivers it in spades.

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6. Joshua Tree National Park

Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Late afternoon shadows enhance the beauty of Joshua Tree. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Joshua Tree National Park encompasses one of the most interesting and diverse patches of desert in the U.S. Its namesake species, the spiky, dramatically crooked Joshua tree, is also considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Mojave Desert.

But this huge desert park actually lies at the meeting point of the Mojave and Sonoran Deserts. The park’s eastern and southern areas, with sub 3,000-foot elevation and plants such as “jumping” cholla cactus and spidery ocotillo, is Sonoran in character; its western areas are higher, cooler, wetter, and quite densely forested with the park’s namesake tree.

You’ll find the tumbled granite boulders to which the park owes its recent fame in the high central range. And don’t miss the towering fan-palm oases, where an entire realm of wildlife revolves around their precious water.

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Worth Pondering…
National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Great National Parks for Fall Foliage

With the autumn season in full swing, the National Park Foundation, the official charity of America’s national parks, announced the 2011 “Great National Parks for Fall Foliage” list. This year’s list includes some iconic parks and a few lesser-known treasures.

Let's Go RVing to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each national park location, however, offers unique ways in which visitors can view the colorful foliage. Whether by water, foot, bicycle, car, or recreational vehicle, these dramatic colors of the season are not to be missed.

Many factors impact the timing of peak fall colors viewing; therefore, foliage seekers are encouraged to contact specific parks for the inside scoop on their unique foliage timing.

This year’s list, and the optimal times for foliage viewing, includes:

California: Whiskeytown National Recreation Area

Peak colors expected middle to end of October. On October 18, a hiking event to Whiskeytown Falls offers a perfect way to view the foliage during the peak season.

Colorado: Curecanti National Recreational Area

Peak colors begin in late September and continue through the end of October.

Mississippi: Natchez Trace Parkway

In middle to late October, the maple, hickory, oak, and other hardwood trees begin to change colors.

Let's Go RVing to Zion National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Montana: Glacier National Park

The bright yellow and gold colors on the aspen and larch trees run through mid-October covering the trails around the park, but particularly along Summit Trail.

Pennsylvania: Flight 93 National Memorial

The trees across the Flight 93 National Memorial begin to turn around mid-October. Check out honorflight93.org/webcam to find instant inspiration for a trip to the site or to take a virtual fall foliage tour.

Tennessee: Great Smoky Mountains National Park

The Great Smoky Mountains boast over 130 different tree species, many of which produce breathtaking autumnal colors. Peak foliage viewing depends greatly on the various levels of elevation found within the park, but overall, the Smoky’s foliage show runs from late September through October.

Utah: Zion National Park

Peak foliage colors appear at the end of October and into November.

Virginia: Shenandoah National Park

Peak colors in the upper elevations begin early to mid-October with lower elevations peaking at the end of October into November.

Vermont: Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller National Historical Park

Rich with sugar maples and 400-year-old hemlocks, this site boasts outstanding fall foliage each year. This year’s prime viewing is expected from mid-October through early November.

Let's Go RVing to Shenendoah National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wisconsin: Apostles Islands National Lakeshore

Peak foliage viewing varies depending on inland or coastal location; however, the foliage show runs from late September through October. Also, many bird species migrate through the park providing foliage seekers with an extra show from Mother Nature.

Details

National Park Foundation

You are the owner of 84 million acres of the world’s most treasured memorials, landscapes, ecosystems, and historic sites—all protected in America’s national parks. Chartered by Congress, the National Park Foundation is the official charity of America’s national parks.

Website: nationalparks.org

National Park Service

The National Park Service website contains contact information and special event listings for all 395 national park units.

Website: nps.gov

Worth Pondering…

National parks are the best idea we ever had. Absolutely American, absolutely democratic, they reflect us at our best rather than our worst.

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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Virginia State Parks Celebrate Milestone

The Commonwealth of Virginia is a state of firsts!

Old Dominion is the birthplace of the nation, the home of eight presidents, and the first state to create a state parks system.

2011 marks two major milestones in Virginia as the state recognizes two of its most treasured assets, Shenandoah National Park and the Virginia State Parks system as they both celebrate their 75th anniversary.

On June 15, 1936 the Commonwealth became the first state in the nation to open an entire park system on the same day.

Six parks were opened to the public in 1936: Douthat, Fairy Stone, Hungry Mother, Staunton River, Westmoreland, and Seashore (now First Landing State Park).

In 2010, Virginia State Parks hosted more than 8 million visitors who contributed approximately $189 million to Virginia’s economy with 224,269 visitors to Douthat State Park alone.

From the original six, the park system has now grown to 34 parks found in nearly every corner of Virginia and have been honored as the best state parks in America by organizations such as the National Sporting Goods Association.

Each site is different and offers visitors a great variety of outdoor recreation.

The rolling, mountainous land in Shenandoah River State Park features steep slopes and is mostly wooded. In addition to meandering river frontage, the park offers scenic vistas overlooking Massanutten Mountain to the west and Shenandoah National Park to the east. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The state parks encompass a variety of environments from sand beaches of the Atlantic to the high mountains of far western Virginia, from Civil War battlefields to railroad beds-tuned bike trails, and from bald eagle sanctuaries to an abandoned gold mine.

The park system can trace its roots back to 1933 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The CCC was a public work-relief program that provided employment for young men who had difficulty finding jobs during the Great Depression. At the same time the program implemented a general natural resource conservation program throughout the nation.

Most of the original cabins built by the CCC in Virginia State Parks are still in use, having been upgraded with modern facilities, and are among the most requested cabins in the park system. Now more than 260 climate-controlled, fully furnished cabins are in the parks and include kitchen equipment, bedding, and towels. Many have fireplaces. Ten parks have large family cabins with multiple bedrooms and baths, perfect for reunions.

But it’s the Great Outdoors that makes the Virginia’s State Park experience exceptional. Many parks have beautiful lakes with swimming areas, canoe and boat rentals, and excellent fishing. Family hiking trails follow lake shores and through woodlots and meadows providing an excellent opportunity to see a multitude of wildlife species.

Administered by National Park Services, Blue Ridge Parkway is known for its varied scenic beauty which changes with the seasons. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parks offer more than 1,700 camp sites ranging from rustic to those equipped with electric and water hookups.

Certain parks are in a class by themselves:

  • Caledon Natural Area on the Potomac River is home to one of the largest concentrations of bald eagles on the East Coast
  • A five-mile gorge traverses Breaks Interstate Park in far Southwest Virginia, giving it the nickname “Grand Canyon of the East”
  • Fairy Stone State Park is named for the small cross-shaped mineral formations rarely found in such abundance elsewhere
  • New River Trail State Park may be the longest and narrowest in the country, measuring 57 miles long and averaging 80 feet in width as it parallels the New River along a former railroad bed now turned into a popular biking trail
  • A real railroad line goes through Natural Tunnel State Park, utilizing the namesake naturally formed tunnel to get through the mountain

The parks host a variety of special events and festivals throughout each year.

Special programs and events and free admission days highlight activities perfect for families who want to shake off the stresses of everyday life and share the enjoyment of nature together.

Details

Virginia State Parks

Contests including the “75 Days of Summer Contest” run from June 15 to September 5. Visit a state park and enter the drawing. The grand prize is a pop-up trailer from Coastal RV. Enter online daily contests and sweepstakes. Weekly prizes include a camping trip with a fully furnished camper trailer from Road Trip Rentals.

Worth Pondering…
The nation behaves well when it treats the natural resources as assets, which it must turn over to the next generation increased and not impaired in value.

—Franklin Delano Roosevelt

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Celebrating 75 Years: Shenandoah National Park

The success of the western national parks prompted a push to open a large national park in the east. A group of prominent Virginians, who felt this land was too magnificent to go unnoticed, began to promote the idea of a national park in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.

Much of Shenandoah consisted of farmland and second- or third-growth forests logged since the early 1700s. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Several sites in the southern Appalachians were considered, but in the end, with a lot of effort by Shenandoah supporters, it was decided to establish a park “within a day’s drive of millions”, making Shenandoah the perfect location for city dwellers to “escape” their busy lives.

At the park’s dedication 75 years ago, President Franklin Roosevelt agreed by saying, “…with the smell of the woods, and the wind in the trees, they will forget the rush and strain of all the other long weeks of the year, and for a short time at least, the days will be good for their hearts and for their souls.”

This statement has continued to hold true as the park has grown into one of the most popular national parks in America.

Mountain majesty

On June 25, Shenandoah National Park will be rededicated during a 10 a.m. ceremony at Big Meadows. The entrance fee to the park will be waived that day, and a full slate of activities is planned, The News Virginian reports.

The ceremony will feature “The President’s Own” U.S. Marine Band. The rededication event is free, but tickets are required—all of which have been taken.

“For the remainder of the day after the rededication ceremony, everyone is invited to enjoy the entertainment, hikes, and activities,” said Susan R. Sherman, executive director of Shenandoah National Park Trust (SNPT), the official nonprofit fundraising partner and booster of the park.

Vistas of gently sloping mountains, forests, and tumbling rivers, and mountain streams are stunning especially during autumn. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

“This will be a big day, but we’re celebrating the 75th anniversary of the park all year long. This anniversary gives the park an opportunity to acknowledge its past, but more importantly to look toward its future.

“It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the communities that surround the park. The two are really mutually beneficial to each other. The park is a huge economic driver for the local economies of these gateway communities.”

During this anniversary year SNPT is organizing activities to encourage people to enjoy this majestic treasure. For example, it’s co-hosting a regional photo contest for professional and amateur photographers, as well as children.

The Trust has also established the Hundred Mile Club, which offers a membership package and members-only events. Those who join agree to pledge or raise $1 for every mile they hike, up to 100 miles in a calendar year, with the money benefiting the park.

75 Reasons to Visit Shenandoah National Park

To increase interest and knowledge about the park, a game was created called “75 Reasons to Visit Shenandoah National Park and the Surrounding Communities.” The questions are listed in a brochure that can be found at visitor centers surrounding the park or downloaded at celebrateshenandoah.org.

Hikers trek into the forest along the more than 500 miles of trails, including 101 miles of the famed Appalachian Trail and are rewarded with some of the most scenic views of Shenandoah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The game features a range of questions about the park and provides the public opportunity to participate in the anniversary celebration, learn more about the area, and win prizes.

A brochure contains the questions about the park and the highlights of the surrounding counties. Anyone participating in the game finds the answers, fills in the blanks, and returns the form to the park by November 1, 2011.

All persons submitting correctly completed entries receive a certificate of participation, a specially designed decal, and qualify for prize drawings in November. The Grand Prize will include a Shenandoah National Park Vacation Package for two at Skyland Resort, a limited edition print of the park that is signed and numbered by the artist, and a biplane ride over the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont of Virginia. In addition, there will be 16 additional prize packages made possible through the support of area attractions and businesses.

Did You Know?
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park celebrated its 75th in 2009 and Blue Ridge Parkway is celebrating their 75th in 2010.

Note: This is the final in a four-part series on Shenandoah National Park and its 75th anniversary celebration.

Part 1: Make Your Destination a Journey

Part 2: Driving the Skyline Drive

Part 3: Away I Go to Shenandoah

Worth Pondering…
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away, you rollin’ river
O Shenandoah, I long to hear you
Away I’m bound to go
—lyrics by Nick Patrick and Nick Ingman

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