My 5 Favorite State Parks

Every year, America’s nearly 8,000 state parks see more than 720 million visitors—more than two-and-a-half times the number of all visits to national parks, which include marquee names such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon.

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

These state parks tend to be smaller than national parks, and relatively modest in comparison, but they form the backbone of the park system and enjoy fierce loyalty from families who visit year after year.

Chances are you’re not too far from a state parks. Visit a state park today.

Everyone has lists and seldom do any two lists agree. But lists can be interesting fodder for discussion, debate, and sometimes agreement.

Here are My 5 Favorite State Parks.

Bentsen-Rio Grande State Park, Texas

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center. Witness hawk migrations and enjoy bird walks and natural history tours at this key migratory stopover.

You can spend a whole day exploring bird life along a one-mile walking trail through sugar hackberry, Rio Grande ash, and Texas ebony; and the six-mile paved inner and outer loops. Or take the tram or rent a bicycle to meander around the loops.

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina
Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Catalina State Park, Arizona

Catalina State Park, one of the many gems in the Arizona State Park system, offers beautiful vistas of the Sonoran Desert and the Santa Catalina Mountains with riparian canyons, lush washes, and dense cactus forests. The environment at the base of the Santa Catalina Mountains offers great camping, hiking, picnicking, and bird watching—more than 150 species of birds call the park home.

One of the special features at Catalina State Park (among many!) is an amazing population of saguaros. There are about a half-dozen large stands within the park, each numbering close to 500 plants. Along with hundreds of scattered individuals, these stands account for an estimated saguaro population of close to 5,000 plants.

Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas
The Valley of Fire State Park near Las Vegas derives its name from red sandstone formations, formed from great shifting sand dunes during the age of dinosaurs, 150 million years ago. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its blood-red sandstone cliffs and weird rock formations, there’s an other-worldly feeling at Valley of Fire State Park. The terrain at Valley of Fire so resembles Mars that the Mars scenes of Total Recall were almost all filmed here.

Popular activities include camping, picnicking, photography, hiking among the intriguing rock formations, and soaking in the fascinating story of the area’s geological evolution. Park features include Fire Canyon/Silica Dome, Rainbow Vista, White Domes, and Beehives. Valley of Fire State Park is 55 miles—and a few light-years—northeast of Las Vegas via Interstate 15 and on exit 75.

Gulf State Park, Alabama

Consisting of 6,150 acres with two miles of sugar white sand beaches and three fresh water lakes, Gulf State Park has a modern full-service campground, cabins, cottages, back country trails, and the largest fishing pier in the Gulf of Mexico.

The park also features an interactive nature center, nationally recognized scenic nature trail, new tennis courts, beautiful beach pavilion, 18-hole Refuge Golf Course, and a 900-acre lake for fishing in the picnic area on Lake Shelby.

Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Relax and enjoy the beauty of Gulf State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Custer State Park, South Dakota
With its pine-clad mountains and striking stone spires giving way in the south to gently rolling grasslands, the 71,000-acre Custer State Park occupies one of the prettiest corners of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

Drive on the windy Needles Highway in the north, through narrow tunnels carved through the rock, to mirror-like Sylvan Lake, the “crown jewel.” To the south, the 18-mile Wildlife Loop is the place to find pronghorn antelope, bighorn sheep, elk, and the famous “begging donkeys”.

Custer State Park touts itself as one of the few remaining wild sanctuaries in the country. Elk, mountain goats and nearly 1,300 buffalo roam this 71,000-acre park, set in the Black Hills of South Dakota.

Worth Pondering…

Take time to listen to the voices of the earth and what they mean…the majestic voice of thunder, the winds, the sound of flowing streams. And the voices of living things: the dawn chorus of the birds, the insects that play little fiddles in the grass.

—Rachel Carson

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Wind Flips High Profile Vehicles

Strong gusty winds caused problems for RVers, truckers, electrical crews, and even buildings in the Dakotas for the past two days (Wednesday and Thursday, October 17 and 18), has finally moved on.

South Dakota wind warning. (Source: valleynewslive.com)

According to the National Weather Service, strong northwest winds of 50 mph—gusting to 70 mph—persisted across South Dakota yesterday.

The South Dakota Department of Transportation advised motorists that extremely high winds were making travel difficult across the state, especially for high-profile vehicles such as semis, trucks, buses, and SUVs.

Motorists were advised to use extreme caution as many semis and vehicles tipped over on and along many roadways, especially in central and western South Dakota.

Gusting winds pushed trees onto several highways and blew down power lines and poles, causing temporary delays until highway maintenance crews arrived to clear the roads, according to an Associated Press report.

In the Black Hills area the Needles Highway was closed due to falling trees. Winding roads with a high number of pine-beetle infested trees were the areas of greatest concern.

South Dakota wind warning. (Source: valleynewslive.com)

KOTA reports that 77-mile-an-hour wind gusts broke off the top of a 40-foot electrical pole in Fort Pierre, and wind flipped a recreational vehicle at Fort Randall Dam.

Scattered power outages were reported across South Dakota and North Dakota. There was a power outage in the Black Hawk area around 2 a.m. Thursday but was restored around 3.

A building under construction in the New England North Dakota area collapsed. Tumbleweeds in Dickinson piled up as high as some buildings. Hess Corp. shut down some oil rig activity in the region.

“There is a low pressure system off to our east, and it’s creating a tight pressure gradient across the area. With a tighter pressure gradient, you get stronger winds,” meteorologist Katie Pojorlie of the National Weather Service office in Rapid City told the Associated Press.

As of about 3 p.m. Wednesday, the highest wind gust measured in western South Dakota blew across Union Center weather station at 72 mph, she said.

Downtown Rapid City logged a 68 mph wind gust, while Rapid City Regional Airport saw a 66 mph gust and 44 mph sustained winds, Pojorlie said.

A cold front also rolled in with the wind Tuesday night, dropping temperatures from the 60s and 70s to the 40s and 50s, Pojorlie said.

Sometime before 9 a.m. Wednesday, the wind is believed to have pushed a tree across a power line and on top of a house, Pojorlie said. The fire department responded, although no fire was started as a result of the fallen power line, she said. The fire crew waited until Black Hills Power arrived to handle it.

South Dakota wind warning. (Source: valleynewslive.com)

About 3:30 a.m., a small fire started on top of a power pole along East Philadelphia Street, and embers were falling from it, Colby said. A fire crew responded to keep the fire confined to the pole and waited for Black Hills Power to arrive to put out the fire, she said.

A fire is one of the department’s biggest concerns during a high wind event, Colby said.

“The wind will spread that fire quickly. It makes it very difficult to control,” Colby said.

Worth Pondering…
On the fourteenth day of April in 1935
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky…
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona Line
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgment, we thought it was our doom…
—Woody Guthrie, from his song, The Great Dust Storm

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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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50 Magnificent RV Trips

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

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

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:

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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.

Continue reading →

Las Vegas, Nevada

You only live once, so Vegas is a must. The Strip is fun, even for those who don’t like to throw away their money—err—I mean gamble. Scores of free shows and nightly programs drop the collective jaw of be-dazzled viewers. Nearly a hundred casinos light up the Nevada sky to woo penny pinchers and high rollers alike. Area tours, desert beauty and some of the country’s best golf courses make Vegas far more than just a gamer’s paradise.

Memphis, Tennessee

Put on your blue suede shoes and drop on in. Whether it is the strains of the Blues, the smell of old fashioned Southern barbecue, or the myriad sights that catch your eye, there is something unique about the city of Memphis.

There are approximately 600 cliff dwellings at Mesa Verde. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Birthplace of rock ‘n roll and the blues, Memphis lays greater claim to shaping the music of the 20th century than any other city in the nation. Memphis is home to blues notables such as B.B. King and the late W.C. Handy, as well as rock ’n roll pioneer Elvis Presley.

No visit to Memphis would be complete without a visit to Graceland, the home of the late Elvis Presley, otherwise known as “The King.”

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

More than a century ago, President Theodore Roosevelt established the first national park devoted to preserving the works of man — Mesa Verde. Here, approximately 1,400 years ago, the Pueblo Indians lived in what we now call cliff dwellings.

Although the majority of these domiciles are relatively small, the largest, known as the Cliff Palace, contained 150 rooms. The park has more than 4,000 known archaeological sites, with many open for ranger-guided tours.

Continue reading →

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, Arizona & Utah

Sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires rise majestically from the desert floor. Monument Valley offers the Western backdrop made famous in movies directed by John Ford.

An unpaved, and at times rough, road loops through the park. Several overlooks offer spectacular views of the wonders of Monument Valley.

Some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest are found in Monument Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Some of the most striking and recognizable landscapes of sandstone buttes, mesas, and spires in the entire Southwest are found in Monument Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

One of the grandest—and most photographed—landmarks in the United States, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park is a sprawling, sandy preserve that straddles the border of northeastern Arizona and southeastern Utah.

Continue reading →

Mount Rainier National Park, Washington

Ascending to 14,410 feet above sea level, Mount Rainier stands as an icon in the Washington landscape. An active volcano, Mount Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S. spawning six major rivers. Subalpine wildflower meadows ring the icy volcano while ancient forest cloaks Mount Rainier’s lower slopes. Wildlife abounds in the park’s ecosystems. The most popular destination for visitors to Mount Rainier is Paradise located on the south slope at approximately 5,400 feet.

Mount Rushmore National Memorial, South Dakota

South Dakota’s Black Hills provide the backdrop for Mount Rushmore, the world’s greatest mountain carving. These 60-foot high faces, 500 feet up, look out over a setting of pine, spruce, birch, and aspen in the clear western air.

The sculpture was carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore by Danish-American Gutzon Borglum and his son, Lincoln Borglum. This epic sculpture features the heads of four exalted American presidents (from left to right): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln.

Please Note: This is Part 5 of an 8-part series on 50 Places to RV Before You Die

Worth Pondering…

The West is color. Its colors are animal rather than vegetable, the colors of earth and sunlight and ripeness.

—Jessamyn West

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: May 25

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

1. Weekend Campers See Steady Fuel Prices

Vacationing campers won’t need to worry about rising fuel prices as they hit the road for the upcoming Memorial Day holiday weekend.

Retail U.S. gasoline prices were flat at $3.678 per gallon on Wednesday (May 23), according to auto club AAA, Wright Express, and Oil Price Information Service.

According to The Associated Press, the nationwide average for a gallon of regular unleaded has dropped by 25.8 cents since peaking in the first week of April. Gasoline is 16.5 cents per gallon cheaper than it was the same time last year.

It’s all a reflection of falling crude oil prices.

The price of oil tumbled below $90 on Wednesday for the first time in nearly seven months as U.S. supplies continue to grow.

2. Pacific Coachworks Introduces ECON Lightweight Trailer

ECON trailer from Pacific Coachworks

Pacific Coachworks Inc. announced the launch of its all-new line of ECON lightweight series trailers. The line will include a toy hauler floor plan named the ECON X.

“This product is in high demand and recent events have created what we feel to be a big void in the already successful lightweight trailer market,” said Pacific Coachworks General Manager Jeff Daily in a news release.

Brett Bashaw, CEO and president of the Riverside, Calif.-based builder, noted he is expecting that the new ECON will “add to the success and growth of the company as did the Tango, Panther, Powerlite and SandSport products after being introduced into the market during the past 12 months.”

3. South Dakota State Park Visitation Up

Many top camping spots in South Dakota have already reported a 10 to 20 percent increase in visitors. Game Fish and Parks report they’ve already booked 37,000 campsites for the summer, up from last year’s 29,000, according to KSFY-TV, Sioux Falls.

Lake Herman State Park is home to 72 campsites and looking ahead to one very busy weekend.

“Last I heard, our park was full and that means we have a very busy weekend ahead. Walker’s Point and Lake Herman are full for this weekend,” John Bame said.

“It might attribute to the warmer spring we had, and April was a good month as well. A lot of our counts increased because a lot of people came out early to recreate due to the good weather,” Bame said.

To plan for a busy weekend, staff makes sure they’ve got a clean park and each site is ready to be enjoyed.

4. Brenham: Ice Cream Capital of Texas

“Brenham—Ice Cream Capital of Texas” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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

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

For more on the sweet story of “the little creamery” in Brenham and the tasting test, go here.

5. San Antonio River Walk

Since 1938 the River Walk has been a hub of culture for San Antonio. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The famed San Antonio River Walk is 2 1/2 miles of beautifully landscaped waterfront with hotels, restaurants, nighclubs, and shopping and is one of the main tourist attractions in the state of Texas.

Historically, the waterway was used by Spanish explorers to provide water to their missions. In 1929, Robert H.H. Hugman submitted his design plans to turn the area into a beautiful urban park with apartments, dining, shopping and boat rides.

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

For the complete story of San Antonio’s Paseo del Río or River Walk , read San Antonio River Walk: Jewel of the City.

Have a great Memorial Day Weekend, safe RV travels, and we’ll see you on the road!

Please Note: As a result of limited interest in “Five Things You Need to Know Today”, I’m suspending this Friday feature with this issue.

Worth Pondering…

Happiness flutters in the air whilst we rest among the breaths of nature.

—Kelly Scheaffer

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Five Things You Need to Know Today: April 13

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

1. South Dakota State Parks See Record Number Campers

Custer State Park buffalo round-up. (Source: travelsd.com)

It may seem a bit early to get out the camping equipment, but that’s exactly what many people are doing this year in South Dakota.

“We’ve seen visitors from Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Wisconsin, Minnesota, North Dakota, Colorado,” Custer State Park Campground Manager Lance Catron told KELO-TV, Sioux Falls.

“With the perfect weather that we’ve had in March, the reasonable temperatures have helped us out tremendously,” Catron said.

And while Custer State Park rented three times as many camping sites this March as they did last, the numbers for the entire state are even greater. Statewide, South Dakota’s state campsites saw a 388 percent increase.

“If everything holds true, we’ll have one of the best camping seasons we’ve ever had here in Custer State Park,” Catron said.

State parks are well on their way to breaking more records. Campground reservations are up 15 percent at Custer State Park compared to this time last year.

2. Passport America

Passport America, a family-run business, is the “original” 50% Discount Camping Club.

Passport America invented the 50% discount concept in 1992 and continued to improve upon the concept. Their stated goal is to save you money.

More than 1600 campgrounds across the US, Canada, and Mexico currently participate in the Passport America Program.

Disclaimer: I am a member of Passport America but do not represent or promote them.

To read more about Passport America and other discount camping clubs, click here.

3. Safe Driving Tips

RVs are not difficult to drive but there are a few things to keep in mind that will make your travels safer and more enjoyable.

Check lights before traveling. Prior to starting your day’s travel check the functioning of all signal lights, 4-way flashers, brake lights, and head lights.

Look well ahead. DO NOT overdrive your visibility—90% of all driving decisions are visual based.

Leave Yourself an Out. Determine the lane of least resistance and safety and maintain safe following distances. Leave room to change lanes when stopping behind another vehicle. Is there a way out of here? DO NOT drive your RV into any place that you can’t see a way out of—especially if that RV is a large motorhome towing a car.

Click here for more RV driving tips.

4. Tornadoes: The What, When & Where

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. (NSSL photo courtesy Seymour)

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms.

People, recreational vehicles, cars, and even buildings may be hurled aloft by tornado-force winds—or simply blown away. Most injuries and deaths are caused by flying debris.

A tornado is a vertical funnel of violently rotating air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.

The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 miles per hour or more and can clear-cut a pathway in excess of one mile wide and 50 miles long.

Once a tornado in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, carried a motel sign 30 miles and dropped it in Arkansas!

To read more on tornadoes, click here.

5. Money Saving Tips: Extending Your RV Travel Dollars

We all know that times are tough. The economic downturn has touched everyone. Many are facing unemployment and dwindling home values. Nobody knows when the economy will pick back up, or when Americans will begin to spend their hard-earned money again. When the economy tanks, we look for savings—and that true for everyone, including RVers.

Saving money on unnecessary spending frees up bucks for other things. While an RV is one of the biggest investments we can make, the ways we can save when camping with our RVs, are almost limitless.

For tips that will help you save money while still enjoying all the fun, freedom, and flexibility oft RV travel, click here.

Have a great weekend.

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

Worth Pondering…

I think, therefore I am.

I listen, therefore I know.

I travel to discover, therefore I grow.

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Best of the Road

Rand McNally, in collaboration with USA TODAY, recently crowned the first five winning towns the Best of the Road® in its inaugural search at the Destination Marketing Association International (DMAI) Annual Convention in New Orleans.

Sandpoint Idaho is a resort community that offers a little bit of everything for everybody! (Credit: sandpoint.com)

The winning towns are highlighted on Best of the Road, the 2013 Rand McNally Road Atlas, and on USA TODAY’s travel site.

Narrowed down from more than 600 submissions, 30 top towns in five categories—Most Beautiful, Most Patriotic, Friendliest, Most Fun, and Best for Food—were selected for review during the inaugural Best of the Road Rally. Equipped with brand-new Saab vehicles and Rand McNally RVND navigation devices, five teams of amateur travelers completed a three-week cross-country road trip, for a combined 25,000 miles traveled, personally visiting the six top towns in their assigned category.

To showcase their journey and share town experiences, the teams posted photos, videos, and blog posts on ontheroad.bestoftheroad.com, Facebook, and Twitter.

During a presentation of their “traveler’s journals” on July 14 in Los Angeles, each team consulted with the judges panel to determine which town would be crowned the winner in their category. The winners are:

Most Beautiful: Sandpoint, Idaho – reviewed by The McNavigators, who said the unofficial motto is “enjoy the great outdoors, connect with friends and keep life simple.”

Every year, the many visitors to Mount Rushmore National Memorial in the Black Hills of South Dakota draw inspiration from the colossal portraits of four outstanding presidents of the United States: George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Theodore Roosevelt. (Credit: nps.gov)

Most Patriotic: Rapid City, South Dakota – reviewed by Captain and Clark, who described the town as “a place where people from across the world and country can learn about America’s past, become inspired by its present, and find hope in its future.”

Friendliest:  Walla Walla, Washington – reviewed by Gone with the Wynns, who described it as “a town so nice they named it twice; a culturally diverse small town with happy faces everywhere you go.”

Most Fun: Glenwood Springs, Colorado – reviewed by TraveleingJules and TravelingJoan, who dubbed the town “a mountain of fun and an adventure capital, with endless ways to get your adrenaline pumping.”

Best for Food:  Lafayette, Louisiana – reviewed by The Fun Finders who learned the true taste of Cajun food to be “flavorful, not hot or spicy” and that after a meal, the best dessert is “Cajun dancing.”

Having visited to each of these towns in our motorhome, it’s hard to argue against their selection. They certainly are five great RV destinations whether you plan to stay a day, a week, or longer.

“Each of the top 30 towns truly provided an unforgettable experience during the Best of the Road Rally and it was hard to narrow it down to just one winner in each category,” said Dave Muscatel, CEO of Rand McNally. “We’re grateful to the residents of the finalist towns and their fans for showing tremendous enthusiasm and support in our inaugural search.”

Glenwood Springs is located 40 miles north of Aspen, Colorado and 60 miles west of Vail, Colorado. Awe-inspiring Glenwood Canyon is the gateway to western Colorado and is the starting point of many popular hiking trails like Hanging Lake and Grizzly Creek. (Credit: en.wikipedia.org)

The winning towns were presented by Rand McNally and USA TODAY to an audience of attendees at the convention’s “Industry Spotlight” seminar.

Details

Best of the Road

Rand McNally’s celebration of the Great American Road Trip has given way to an online guide of the Best of the Road and features top attractions in more than 20 categories—from the Best Beach to the Best BBQ. This year, Rand McNally collaborated with USA TODAY, for an all-new the Best of the Road search with content created by travelers online and published in the 2013 Rand McNally Road Atlas.

Rand McNally

Rand McNally is a trusted source for maps, directions, and travel content.  Rand McNally’s products and services include: Interactive travel referral service, Tripology; IntelliRoute® truck routing software, and GPS devices; and a leading geography-based educational resources for the classroom.  The 88th edition of America’s #1 Road Atlas by Rand McNally will be available shortly and it includes digital TAGs which connect smartphone users to special mobile web pages.

USA TODAY

USA TODAY is a multi-platform news and information media company. USA TODAY, the nation’s number one newspaper in print circulation with an average of more than 1.8 million daily, and USATODAY.com, an award-winning newspaper website launched in 1995, reach a combined 5.9 million readers daily.

Worth Pondering…
Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast—you miss the sense of where you’re going and why.

—Eddie Cantor

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Tornadoes: The What, When & Where

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms.

A sequence of images showing the birth of a tornado. First, the rotating cloud base lowers. This lowering becomes a funnel, which continues descending while winds build near the surface, kicking up dust and other debris. Finally, the visible funnel extends to the ground, and the tornado begins causing major damage. This tornado, near Dimmitt, Texas, was one of the best-observed violent tornadoes in history. Image courtesy Wipikedia

People, recreational vehicles, cars, and even buildings may be hurled aloft by tornado-force winds—or simply blown away. Most injuries and deaths are caused by flying debris.

A tornado is a vertical funnel of violently rotating air extending from a thunderstorm to the ground.

The most violent tornadoes are capable of tremendous destruction with wind speeds of 250 miles (400 kilometers) per hour or more and can clear-cut a pathway in excess of one mile (1.6 kilometers) wide and 50 miles (80 kilometers) long.

Once a tornado in Broken Bow, Oklahoma, carried a motel sign 30 miles and dropped it in Arkansas!

These violent storms occur in many parts of the world, but the United States is the major hotspot with over 800 tornadoes reported every year. “Tornado Alley,” a region that includes eastern South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and eastern Colorado, is home to the most powerful and destructive of these storms. U.S. tornadoes cause 80 deaths and more than 1,500 injuries per year.

Canada gets more tornadoes than any other country with the exception of the United States. Tornadoes are relatively common in Canada, but only in specific regions: southern portions of Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario and Quebec. Tornado season in Canada extends from April to September with peak months in June and July, but they can occur at any time.

Tornadoes’ distinctive funnel clouds are actually transparent. They become visible when water droplets pulled from a storm’s moist air condense or when dust and debris are taken up. Funnels typically grow about 660 feet (200 meters) wide.

Tornadoes move at speeds of about 10 to 20 miles (16 to 32 kilometers) per hour, although they’ve been clocked in bursts up to 70 miles (113 kilometers) per hour. Most don’t get very far though. They rarely travel more than about six miles (ten kilometers) in their short lifetimes.

Tornadoes are nature’s most violent storms. Image courtesy Seymour

Tornado forecasters can’t provide the same kind of warning that hurricane watchers can, but they can do enough to save lives. Today the average warning time for a tornado alert is 13 minutes.

Tornadoes can also be identified by warning signs that include a dark, greenish sky, large hail, and a powerful train-like roar.

What causes tornadoes?

Thunderstorms develop in warm, moist air in advance of eastward-moving cold fronts. These thunderstorms often produce large hail, strong winds, and tornadoes.

Tornadoes in the winter and early spring are often associated with strong, frontal systems that form in the Central States and move east. Occasionally, large outbreaks of tornadoes occur with this type of weather pattern.

During the spring in the Central Plains, thunderstorms frequently develop along a “dryline,” which separates very warm, moist air to the east from hot, dry air to the west. Tornado-producing thunderstorms may form as the dryline moves east during the afternoon hours.

Along the front range of the Rocky Mountains, in the Texas panhandle, and in the southern High Plains, thunderstorms frequently form as air near the ground flows upslope toward higher terrain. If other favorable conditions exist, these thunderstorms can produce tornadoes.

This extremely dangerous tornado occurred on June 22, 2007 in the town of Elie, west of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The winds in this storm were rated to be between 260 and 320 miles (419 and 512 km) per hour, the most powerful tornado possible! The rare combination weather features converged this day in June, allowing for the most powerful tornado in Canadian history to be recorded. Image courtesy Steinbach Weather

The average tornado moves from southwest to northeast, but tornadoes have been known to move in any direction. The average forward speed is 30 mph but may vary from nearly stationary to 70 mph.

Frequency of Tornadoes

The meteorological factors that drive tornadoes make them more likely at some times than at others. They occur more often in late afternoon, when thunderstorms are common, and are more prevalent in spring and summer. However, tornadoes can and do form at any time of the day and year.

In the southern states, peak tornado occurrence is in March through May, while peak months in the northern states are during the summer.

Note: This is part 2 of a 3-part series on tornadoes

Worth Pondering…
There are two big forces at work, external and internal. We have very little control over external forces such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, disasters, illness, and pain. What really matters is the internal force. How do I respond to those disasters? Over that I have complete control.

—Leo F. Buscaglia, advocate of the power of love, 1924-1998

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