Rock of Ages: Zion National Park

When it comes to standing in awe of nature’s magnificence, it’s hard to beat the Grand Circle Tour—especially the northern arc that carves across southern Utah and encompasses Zion National Park at the western edge and Arches National Park to the east. In between are the natural wonders of Cedar Breaks National Monument, Bryce Canyon National Park, Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of them all, however, it is Zion that offers outdoor enthusiasts the most varied, seemingly otherworldly terrain. And you don’t have to hike for days to see its sheer beauty; at just under 230 square miles, Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon.

The same forces of nature that created Utah’s scenic odyssey­—and Arizona’s Rim Country—also created Zion, which is located in the middle of an area commonly known in geological circles as The Great Staircase. Because of erosion and teutonic uplift that created cliffs where flat basins once were, the bottom layer of rock at Bryce Canyon, to the northeast, is the top layer at Zion—while the bottom layer here at Zion is the top layer at nearby Grand Canyon.

Zion was carved out of the Markagunt Plateau by the Virgin River, which carved down a half-mile into the sandstone as it rushed to meet up with the Colorado River, exposing rock layers from the middle periods of the earth’s geological history. Weak bedrock eroded away, collapsing giant rock formations that were swept by the powerful river. The result is a canyon with 2,500-foot-high sandstone cliffs of dazzling hues. Especially at sunset, the colorful cliffs stand in contrast with the lush vegetation on the valley floor.

Not surprisingly, Zion boast towering monoliths with spiritual names. The Great White Throne is a glistening mass of white sandstone that towers out at 6,744 feet. Angel’s Landing is an imposing, dull reddish rock standing opposite the Great White Throne, a striking contrast to the white cliff. The Organ is a colossal of red mountains with vertical sides.

The Towers of Virgin are majestic—West Temple is at 7,795 feet (3,805 feet above the canyon floor), the highest point in the park. One of its sides is akin to brilliant red-streaked marble against a background of creamy granite. The Watchman, across the way from West Temple, is even more ornate and colorful; its red rock highlighted with green, orange, rust, and pink as it soars 2,555 fee from the canyon floor and stands guard for the two RV campgrounds.

Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park's most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Zion is relatively small by national park standards and the park’s most memorable features are found in easily accessible Zion Canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. The shuttle system was established to eliminate traffic and parking problems, protect vegetation, and restore tranquility to Zion Canyon.

The Springdale Shuttle stops at nine locations in Springdale. The Zion Canyon Shuttle stops at nine locations in the park. The transfer between loops is made at the Zion Canyon Visitor Center. You may get on and off as often as you like. Riding the shuttle is free

Take time to drive the beautiful Zion-Mount Carmel Highway. Veering east just below Canyon Junction, this 10-mile length of scenic highway sports a series of switchbacks and the Zion-Mount Carmel tunnel en route to Checkerboard Mesa and the park’s eastern entrance.

The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Zion Canyon Scenic Drive is accessible by shuttle bus only from March 15 to October 25 and on weekends in November. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Built in the 1920s, when vehicles were a lot smaller, the tunnel is just 22 feet wide, and vehicles greater than 82 inches in width or 11 feet 4 inches in height—meaning most Class A motorhomes—usually can’t travel through the 1.1-mile tunnel within their own lane, and require traffic control. In winter an escort is needed; the rest of the year, rangers are stationed at both ends of the tunnel, and close it to other traffic while oversize vehicles are traveling within. For this service, expect to pay a $15 fee per vehicle (in addition to the park’s entrance fee of $25).

Home to sandstone cliffs that are among the highest in the world, the canyon was named “Zion” by Mormon pioneers in the 1860s. In 1909, it was established as Mukuntuweap National Monument; 10 years later, it was expanded and renamed Zion National Park (the Kolob section was added in 1937). It continues to feature one of the last free-flowing river systems on the Colorado Plateau.

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 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 Virgin River. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Zion is indeed a place of peace and refuge.

Worth Pondering…

Nothing can exceed the wondrous beauty of Zion.
—Clarence E. Dutton, 1880

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Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West

One of the most iconic and enduring landmarks of the American Wild West, Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park has isolated sandstone mesas, buttes, and a sandy desert that has been photographed and filmed countless times.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Monument Valley boasts crimson mesas, surreal sandstone towers which range in height from 400 to 1,000 feet. Made of de Chelly sandstone, which is 215 million years old, the towers are the remnants of mesas, or flat-topped mountains. Mesas erode first into buttes like the Elephant, which typically are as high as they are wide, then into slender spires like the Three Sisters.

The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

It is one of those sights that takes your breath away and makes you speechless—what the Western writer Zane Grey once described as “a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptored, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.”

Known as Tsé Biiʼ Ndzisgaii (or Valley of the Rocks) to the Navajo, they believe it is a gift from their creator and each unique formation has a story.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Entering Monument Valley is to enter a world of mystery, incredible beauty, and age-old tradition.

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

After arriving Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in mid-afternoon and obtaining information about available options for exploring this wonderland of rocks, we departed the Visitor Center at Lookout Point and started the Valley Drive, a 17-mile self-guided dirt road. The road winds past the valley’s best red rock buttes and spires, with 11 stops for photos.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This is considered one of the world’s premier spots for landscape photography. The best stops for photographing the towers are the Mittens and Merrick Butte, Elephant Butte, Three Sisters, John Ford’s Point, Camel Butte, The Hub, the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei, Sand Springs, Artist’s Point, North Window, and The Thumb. The best times for photography are early mornings and late afternoons when the shadows lengthen and the sun brings out the reds and oranges in the buttes.

Allow at least two to three hours at the posted 10 mph. Expect to eat the valley’ orange dust, because other vehicles will kick up thick clouds of it during the dry weather that you’ll find in this high desert most of the year.

In a swirl of red dust we dropped down into the valley rim in our four-wheel-drive dinghy with guide map in hand.

The road is dusty, steep in a couple of places and rather uneven, but does not need a four-wheel-drive—the journey is suitable for the majority of family cars, and small to medium sized RVs, though the surface is perhaps not improved too much in order to increase business for the many Navajo guides and 4WD Jeep rental outfits, which wait expectantly by the visitor center.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Where God Put The West © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Though rough in many spots and probably impassable in wet weather, the road was easily traveled on this day.

We wound our way past the Mittens, Elephant Butte, the Three Sisters, and to John Ford’s Point—named for the famous director who made movies in Monument Valley, many of them starring John Wayne.

The weather was perfect—sunny and warm—as we continued on past Camel Butte, the Hub, and to the Totem Pole and Yei Bi Chei.

The changing light and shifting shadows created an never-ending stream of views.

Continuing on around Raingod Mesa and Artist Point, we timed our drive to return to the

After photographing the amazing sunset we drove our toad east to our camping site at Cottonwood RV Park in Bluff, Utah, a day trip of 119 miles.

Worth Pondering…

So this is where God put the West.

—John Wayne

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Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood

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.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Our visit to Monument Valley was in two parts: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Goulding’s Trading Post.

Our first stop was the legendary Goulding’s Trading Post located just north of the Arizona-Utah border, six miles from the Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park.

Established in the early 1920s by Harry Goulding and his wife, Leone, nicknamed Mike. For half a century they maintained a warm relationship with the Navajo, trading with them and finding markets for their handmade items, helping lift them from poverty that plagued the reservation.

And then came the Depression, hitting the valley with a brutal vengeance. There was a terrible drought in 1934 and then another one in 1936. Income from the trading post diminished to virtually nothing.

Then, in 1938, with times desperate and conditions bleak, Harry Goulding took his one-in-a-million shot to Hollywood and what he managed to do reverberates to this day.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Armed with a photo album of 8-by-10 scenes of the valley made by famous photographer and close friend, Josef Muench, the Gouldings drove to Hollywood and sold movie director John Ford on the idea of using Monument Valley as a backdrop for Stagecoach, released in 1939. It won two Academy Awards and made John Wayne a star. The connection forged in that office on that day between Ford and Harry Goulding was the beginning of a new era in the American Western.

It’s said that when John Wayne first saw the site, he declared: “So this is where God put the West.” Millions would agree.

Over the next 25 years, John Ford would go on to shoot six more westerns in Monument Valley: My Darling Clementine (1946), Fort Apache (1948), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956), Sergeant Rutledge (1960) and Cheyenne Autumn (1964). In addition to introducing the valley’s spectacular scenery to an international audience, each movie pumped tens of thousands of dollars into the local economy.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Goulding’s Trading Post is now a sprawling complex of 73 motel rooms, a campground, and a souvenir shop. (Harry Goulding died in 1981, Mike in 1992.) The original 1925 trading post has been turned into a museum. Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is both a showcase of varied artifacts and a glimpse into a bygone era.

Goulding’s Trading Post Museum is comprised of several different areas. The first is the Trading Post Bull Pen, where the locals would bring their goods to trade for items: kitchen wares, canned goods, material and threads, and even guns.

The next section of the museum is the Ware Room where surplus and supplies were stored: bags of raw wool, crates of coffee, and saddles. Today the Ware Room is filled with photographs of the early days at Goulding’s and pictures of local Navajos from the 20th Century.

The Josef Muench Room boasts a variety of artwork and photography, principally, that of famous photographer and close Goulding friend, Josef Muench.

Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding's Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Magnificent Monument Valley: Goulding’s Trading Post & Hollywood © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Movie Room was originally built as the mess hall for the crew of The Harvey Girls; today it is filled with movie stills, call sheets, and posters. Always playing in the Movie Room is a classic John Ford/John Wayne film.

The Living Quarters is upstairs and has been restored as closely as possible to how the Goulding’s home appeared in the late 1940s and early 50s.

Captain Nathan Brittles’ Cabin, also called John Wayne’s Cabin, is located just behind the museum. In actuality, it was Mike Goulding’s potato cellar, where she stored her fruits, vegetables, and other perishables.

Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner at Goulding’s Stagecoach Dining Room while experiencing the beauty, culture, and history of the true American West. The dining room offers Navajo and American Southwestern cuisine in a historical, awe-inspiring setting.

Goulding’s Campground offers 66 full-service campsites nestled amid red rocks.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

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Land of the Hoodoos: Bryce Canyon National Park

Mormon pioneer Ebenezer Bryce who ranched in the area described the canyon that bears his name as “a hell of a place to lose a cow”.

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But the rest of the world knows the canyon as a vast wonderland of brilliant-colored spires, rising like sentinels into the clear sky above.

An immigrant from Scotland, Ebenezer Bryce established a homestead in the Paria Valley in 1875. Bryce was sent by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because his skill as a carpenter would be useful in settling the area. Locals started calling the canyon with the strange rock formations near his home “Bryce’s Canyon.”

Bryce Canyon isn’t really a canyon. Rather it is a “break” or series of horseshoe-shaped amphitheaters carved from the eastern slope of the Paunsaugunt Plateau in southern Utah.

The Navajo Loop descends between narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs as it passes two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Navajo Loop descends between narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs as it passes two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. Collectively called “hoodoos”, these unique formations are whimsically arranged and tinted with colors too numerous and subtle to name.

Bryce Canyon’s warm days and cold nights result in more than 200 days a year in which accumulated rainwater completes a freeze-thaw cycle. During the day, water seeps into cracks in the rocks, and then at night, it freezes and expands. As this process repeats, it breaks apart weak rock, and over time, chisels the unusual formations.

The rim of the canyon is between 8,000 to 9,100 feet above sea level. In summer, daytime temperatures are in the 80s but fall to the 40s by night.

If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos.

The only access to Bryce Canyon is via Scenic Byway 12 (an All-American Road), which is a winding road that climbs to high elevations in spots. The entire highway is paved, well maintained, and kept open year-round.

The best place to begin a tour of the park is at the visitor center. Located just 1.5 miles inside the park, the visitor center provides maps and directions, plus information regarding weather, ranger activities, and the Junior Ranger program. There’s also a 20-minute orientation film and a museum with exhibits that display facets of the park’s geology, flora, fauna, and history.

Bryce is a compact park—just 56 square miles—which makes it easier to explore than many national parks in the West.

Hiking is the best way to experience the stunning mazes. The park has over 50 miles of hiking trails with a range of distances and elevation change. Most of the park’s trails range from half a mile to 11 miles and take less than a day to complete.

Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Erosion has shaped colorful Claron limestones, sandstones, and mudstones into thousands of nature-chiseled spires, fins, pinnacles, and mazes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most trails descend into the canyon and wind around the oddly shaped formations. In just a few hours on the trail, you can experience Bryce Canyon’s spectacular scenery.

But a word of caution: Many trails that descend to the bottom are moderate to steep, making the return part of the hike—which is uphill—the most strenuous. Bryce’s high elevation requires extra exertion, so assess your ability and know your limits. Wear hiking boots with good tread and ankle support and carry plenty of drinking water to avoid dehydration.

A prime viewpoint, Bryce Amphitheater is one of the most spectacular viewing areas in the national park system. Bryce Amphitheater is the park’s largest amphitheater and can be viewed from several points—Bryce, Inspiration, Sunset, and Sunrise points.

Sunset Point begins the trailhead for the popular 1.3-mile Navajo Loop which descends through Wall Street. There, hikers travel between the narrow 200-foot canyon cliffs, and along the way pass by a miracle of nature—two 500- to 700-year-old Douglas firs that have managed to grow from the narrow slot canyon floor to reach the sliver of sunlight at the top.

If you're traveling through southern Utah, you'll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
If you’re traveling through southern Utah, you’ll want to visit this land of the hoodoos. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A popular activity is photography. The shutters work overtime at Bryce Canyon and for good reason. While many photos are taken during mid-day hours, the most dramatic images are captured during the early morning and late afternoon.

The late afternoon sun penetrates the narrow gorges, making scenery along the trails come alive. As sunset approaches, colors become muted.

To darken the sky and saturate colors use a polarizing filter.

Worth Pondering…

…a strange world of colossal shafts and buttes of rock, magnificently sculptured, standing isolated and aloof, dark, weird, lonely.

—Zane Grey

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4 Best National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. In an earlier post, Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers. Following are the four best national parks for RVers.

Big Bend National Park, Texas

801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
801,000-acre Big Bend National Park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and Mexico. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Far West Texas, along the Rio Grande River in Big Bend National Park, there’s a magical place with a great deal of silence, beauty, and space—creating an ideal habitat for the turkeys, javelinas, roadrunners, and coyotes.

The 801,000-acre park is defined by the Rio Grande, which forms the boundary between Texas and two Mexican states. But the park touts more than a famous river: In the middle of Big Bend there’s a grand series of peaks known as the Chisos, accessible by dinghy and small RVs along a narrow and curved access road. Ponderosa and pinyon pine carpet the cool flanks of these hills, providing a haven for black bears and cougars. The park bisects one of North America’s most significant deserts, the Chihuahuan, creating an abundance of variety.

Big Bend has four campgrounds: Rio Grande Village RV Campground (25 full hookup sites), Rio Grande Village Campground (100 non-hookup sites), Chisos Basin Campground (60 non-hookup sites), and Cottonwood Campground (24 non-hookup sites).

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado

Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Mesa Verde National Park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde, Spanish for green table, offers a spectacular look into the lives of the Ancestral Pueblo people who made it their home for over 700 years, from AD 600 to 1300. Today the park protects nearly 5,000 known archeological sites, including 600 cliff dwellings. These sites are some of the most notable and best preserved in the United States.

The best way of acquiring a feeling for Mesa Verde is to follow the 6-mile Mesa Top Auto Loop Road which traces Pueblo history at 10 overlooks and archeological sites.

But for an intimate look at the kivas and actual living accommodations take the 15-minute hike from the Chapin Mesa Archaeological Museum to Spruce Tree House. If you would like to explore Cliff Palace, Balcony House, or Long House guided by a ranger, stop by the Far View Visitor Center for information and tour tickets.

Mesa Verde offers great camping just 4 miles inside the park at Morefield Campground. Because there are 267 sites, there’s always plenty of space. The campground rarely fills. But if you want one of the 15 full-hookup sites, reservations are a must.

Zion National Park, Utah

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

Follow the paths where ancient native people and Mormon pioneers walked. Gaze up at massive sandstone cliffs of cream, pink, and red that soar into a brilliant blue sky. Experience wilderness in a narrow slot canyon.

Catch a shuttle for Zion Canyon, the only vehicular means by which you can access this gorgeous area in the summer. And as you progress, soak up the splendor offered by the Court of the Patriarchs and the Temple of Sinawava with their secluded hiking trails.

Zion National Park has three campgrounds. South and Watchman Campgrounds are in Zion Canyon. South Campground (127 non-hookup sites) and Watchman Campground (176 sites, 95 with electric hookups; reservations recommended) are near the south entrance at Springdale.

Situated at 7,890 feet above sea level, the Lava Point Campground (6 primitive sites) is off the Kolob Terrace Road, 25 miles (45 minutes) north of the town of Virgin. It takes approximately one hour and 20 minutes to drive to the campground from the South Entrance of Zion Canyon.

There are no campgrounds in Kolob Canyons. Private RV parks are also available near the park’s entrances.

Death Valley National Park, California

Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Dante’s View, a 5,450-foot overlook near the edge of the Black Mountains on the eastern border of Death Valley, affords the best overall views of the southern half of the national park including Badwater. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In this below-sea-level basin, steady drought and record summer heat make Death Valley a land of extremes. Yet, each extreme has a striking contrast. Towering peaks are frosted with winter snow. Rare rainstorms bring vast fields of wildflowers. Lush oases harbor tiny fish and refuge for wildlife and humans. Despite its morbid name, a great diversity of life survives in Death Valley.

Death Valley offers six campgrounds suitable for most RVs: Furnace Creek (136 sites, a few full hookups), Stovepipe Wells Village (190 sites; 19 full hookups), Sunset (270 non-hookup sites), Texas Spring (92 non-hookup sites), Mesquite Spring (30 non-hookup sites), and Widrose (23 non-hookup sites). A high-clearance vehicle is required to access Thorndike (6 non-hookup sites; 7,400-foot elevation) and Mahogany Flat (10 non-hookup sites; 8,200-foot elevation).

Worth Pondering…

Not to have known…either the mountain or the desert is not to have known one’s self.

—Joseph Wood Krutch

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4 Great National Parks For RVers

The US National Park Service administers a network of nearly 400 natural, cultural, historic, and recreational sites. From these Vogel Talks RVing selected four national parks that are great for RVers.

Joshua Tree National Park, California

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

Two distinct desert ecosystems, the Mojave and the Colorado, come together in Joshua Tree National Park. A fascinating variety of plants and animals make their homes in a land sculpted by strong winds and occasional torrents of rain. Dark night skies, a rich cultural history, and surreal geologic features add to the wonder of this vast wilderness in southern California.

With 8 different campgrounds offering about 500 developed campsites, Joshua Tree offers a variety of options for RVers. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Joshua Tree. Black Rock (99 sites) and Cottonwood (62 sites) have RV-accessible potable water and dump stations. At Hidden Valley (44 sites) and White Tank (15 sites) RVs may not exceed a combined maximum length of 25 feet. Additional campgrounds include Belle (18 sites), Indian Cove (101 sites), Jumbo Rocks (124 sites), and Ryan (31 sites).

Arches National Park, Utah

Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches is renown for an awe-inspiring combination of arches, cliffs, stone spires, and other dramatic rock formations. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit Arches and discover a landscape of contrasting colors, landforms, and textures unlike any other in the world. The park has over 2,000 natural stone arches, in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins, and giant balanced rocks. This red rock wonderland will amaze you with its formations, refresh you with its trails, and inspire you with its sunsets.

Devils Garden Campground is located eighteen miles from the park entrance and is open year-round. There are 50 individual camping sites. Facilities include potable water, picnic tables, grills, and both pit-style and flush toilets. There are no showers or RV dump/fill stations.

All sites are usually reserved in advance during the busy season (March through October). As an alternative numerous private campgrounds are available in nearby Moab.

Shenandoah National Park, Virginia

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

Shenandoah National Park in Virginia may be the nation’s most compelling hikers’ park despite the fact that most hikes begin by either an ascent or descent.

The two-lane Skyline Drive is 105 miles long and it is important for campers who want to begin their explorations of Shenandoah by simply driving. Along the road dozens of pullovers provide views of such spectacles as Old Rag Mountain which contains some of the nation’s oldest rocks. All trails lead to attractions, such as the park’s 15-some waterfalls including 93-foot-high Overall Run Falls, its highest. Or it might lead to Hawksbill, the park’s highest mountain at 4,051 feet.

There are four campgrounds in Shenandoah National Park; three campgrounds will accommodate large RVs. Mathews Arm, Big Meadows, and Loft Mountain all have pull-through and deep back-in sites which can handle an RV with a tow vehicle. There are no hookups for RVs at any campground in Shenandoah but potable water and dump stations are available with the exception of Lewis Mountain.

Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Arizona

The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A comparatively little-known canyon, Canyon de Chelly has 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 sheer walls, shaped and smoothed by thousands of years of rain and wind, provide a dramatic backdrop for those who still live and farm within the canyon. Archaeologists believe that people have lived here for more than 5,000 years making it the longest continuously inhabited area on the Colorado Plateau. Ancient ruins are tucked along its cliffs, as are centuries-old pictographs.

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.

Cottonwood Campground is located in a shallow valley less than ¼-mile from the visitor center. The campground is large with approximately 100 spacious campsites, plus a large group camping area. During our visit we had no difficulty in finding a suitable site for our 40-foot motorhome.

Worth Pondering…

Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don’t claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent.

—Jalal Ad-Din Rumi

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Explore The Diversity Of New Mexico National Parks

From rugged mountaintops to grassy plains to lowland desert, New Mexico is indeed a true Land of Enchantment.

Aztec Ruins National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Aztec Ruins National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Encompassing six of the world’s seven life zones, the state’s landscapes exude diversity. Offering unlimited of unique opportunities, the Land of Enchantment attracts millions of visitors who seek out its scenic beauty and countless outdoor recreation activities.

Enjoy camping, hiking, biking, fishing, boating, birdwatching, picnicking, photography, stargazing and much more. You can do all this and more for bargain prices in the national parks of the Land of Enchantment.

In an earlier post Vogel Talks RVing discussed the unlimited opportunities available for outdoor recreation and camping at New Mexico’s 35 state parks—24 having ponds, streams, rivers, or lakes.

Vogel Talks RVing also discussed New Mexico State Museums and Historical Sites worthy of a visit this summer.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Carlsbad Caverns National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

When planning a weekend getaway or summer vacation, also consider coordinating visits to national parks in the area.

There are 19 national parks, national monuments, and national historical trails within the borders of New Mexico.

Aztec Ruins National Monument: Aztec ruins, built and occupied by the Ancestral Puebloan people over a 200-mile period, preserves an extended and planned community of a variety of structures. Included are several large, multi-story public buildings (“great houses”), many smaller residential pueblos, ceremonial kivas, remnants of linear “roads,” and earthen berms.

Bandelier National Monument: Thirteenth-century pueblo-style dwellings dot the rugged, canyon-slashed slopes and bottoms of the Pajarito Plateau. The Bandelier terrain is challenging, the scenery spectacular, with elevations ranging from 5,000 to 10,000 feet, and lush, narrow canyons that alternate with sweeping mesa-top vistas.

El Malpais National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Malpais National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Capulin Volcano National Monument: Capulin Volcano, a nearly perfectly-shaped cinder cone, stands more than 1,200 feet above the surrounding high plains of northeastern New Mexico.

Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Established to preserve Carlsbad Caverns and numerous other caves within a Permian-age fossil reef, this park contains more than 100 known caves, including Lechuguilla Cave—the nation’s deepest limestone cave, at 1,567 feet, and the third longest. The Big Room is one of the world’s largest and most accessible underground chambers.

Chaco Culture National Historic Park: Chaco Culture preserves one of America’s most significant and fascinating cultural and historic areas. Chaco Canyon was a major center of Ancestral Puebloan culture between AD 850 and 1250. It was a hub of ceremony, trade, and administration for the prehistoric Four Corners area—unlike anything before or since.

El Malpais National Monument: Although el malpais means “the badlands,” this unique area holds many surprises. Lava flows, cinder cones, pressure ridges, complex lava tube systems, and other volcanic features dominate the mysterious El Malpais landscape.

El Morro National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
El Morro National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

El Morro National MonumentEl Morro’s Inscription rock in northwest New Mexico bears silent witness to more than 700 years of history. Drawn here by its secluded water hole, Anasazi, Spanish, and Anglo cultures marked their passing by carving 2,000 petroglyphs and inscriptions on this sandstone bluff. Inscription Rock is a soft sandstone monolith, rising 200 feet above the valley floor.

Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument: Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument offers a glimpse into the homes and lives of the people of the Mogollon culture, who lived in the Gila Wilderness from the 1280 through the early 1300s. The monument is surrounded by the Gila National Forest, and lies at the edge of the Gila Wilderness, the nation’s first designated wilderness area.

Petroglyph National Monument: Petroglyph protects a variety of cultural and natural resources, including five volcanic cones, hundreds of archeological sites, and an estimated 25,000 images carved in rock by native people and early Spanish settlers.

Petroglyph National Monument  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Petroglyph National Monument © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

White Sands National Monument: This site contains a large portion of the world’s largest gypsum dunefield. Here, glistening white dunes rise 60 feet high, and cover 275 square miles. Driven by strong southwest winds, sand slowly but relentlessly covers everything in its path. Surprisingly, many small animals and plants have adapted to this harsh environment.

Please Note: This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on the Public Lands Of New Mexico

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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Snowbirds Begin Migrating North

It’s the time of year when the seasons change and snowbirds are flocking, to fly north.

White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
White Tank Mountain Regional Park: West Valley Icon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

All signs point to spring: warm winds, green budding trees, desert wildflowers, spring break, and snowbirds heading north.

Snowbirds enjoy Sunbelt winters, but they also like to have a bit of spring as well.

For many non-snowbirds who weathered another bitterly cold northern winter, the change of seasons is a welcome one.

Spring Break: Transition Time For Snowbirds

Spring break marks the transition time when most snowbirds return north and families head south, tired of the cold and looking for a place to thaw.

But there is a group, or perhaps a subset of a group, myself included, that experiences the opposite. Our enjoyment of a warm winter is now turning to angst as we contemplate the return to our northern home.

Snowbirds ask: Is it over already?

Many snowbirds are staying longer and there are more of them.

Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights
Saguaro Lake © Rex Vogel, all rights

Snowbirds began the migration process several weeks ago returning to their northern homes. Some will stay a week or two more before commencing their journey north.

As snowbirds set out for home a question is often asked: “Is it over already?”

While reflecting about the past winter season, it has gone by very quickly.

Leaving the Southwest

We’ve been meandering around the Desert Southwest since December, enjoying a fabulous and temperate winter in a variety of RV parks and resorts in California and Arizona. Many amazing places visited and awesome adventures. The days were filled with numerous events, activities, and happenings in Snowbird Land—and writing about them.

The early and late winter season found us in the Coachella Valley enjoying the Southern California sunshine, discovering the beauty and diversity of the area, and indulging the palate in tasty tamales and other south-of-the border treats—and the famous Coachella Medjool dates.

Mexican gold poppies, lupins, and brittle bush at Picacho State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights
Mexican gold poppies, lupins, and brittle bush at Picacho State Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights

Day trips included the Coachella Valley Preserve, a desert oasis with palm groves, a diverse trail system, and the historic Palm House, and Cabot’s Pueblo Museum, a Hopi-inspired pueblo nestled in the scenic hills of Desert Hot Springs. Our home base was the 5-star Indian Waters RV Resort in Indio.

Arizona is a destination like no other. Arizona has everything: Lakes and mountains, forests and rivers. Mostly, though, Arizona has desert. Acres and acres of desert. Dee-lightful desert.

We divided out time between Arizona Oasis RV Resort on the Colorado River at Ehrenberg, Leaf Verde RV Resort at Buckeye, and two parks in Casa Grande: Sundance 1 and Casa Grande RV Resorts. All 5-star RV parks and excellent bases for exploring the beauties of the Sonoran Desert.

Selected highlights include Quartzsite and the Quartzsite RV Show; White Tanks, Estrella Mountain, Buckeye Hills, Usery Mountain, and McDowell Mountain regional parks (Maricopa County); The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert; Picacho Peak State Park; Saguaro Lake, Four Peaks Wilderness; Queen Valley; and Pinal Parkway.

A distinguishing characteristic of the Sonoran Desert are desert wildflowers but they can be as rare as they are beautiful. Nature lovers know that they must rush out to catch a bloom whenever it occurs, because they may not get another opportunity for ten or more years.

Globe Mellow and saguaro at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert   © Rex Vogel, all rights
Globe Mellow and saguaro at The Riparian Preserve at Water Ranch in Gilbert © Rex Vogel, all rights

Furthermore, what triggers these floral fireworks extravaganzas is still very much a mystery and predicting a good bloom is nearly impossible until it’s about to begin. In a word, for beautiful scenes of desert wildflowers, this past season was one of the best in memory.

Northern bound

But spring has sprung, and we’re now we’re northern bound.

Thoughts of homes and family left behind become the focus for looking ahead.

OK, gotta get busy cleaning and stowing!

Worth Pondering…

To all, safe travels, keep your wheels on the road, and drive safely.

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Getaway To New Mexico, Land of Enchantment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Georgia O’Keeffe

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The View Campground: New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley

It’s all about the mystical view.

New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley
New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

That is, the view of Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, on the northern outskirts of the Navajo Nation.

Experience Monument Valley as you’ve never seen before. The View Campground offers some of the most spectacular views of Monument Valley.

Opened in December 2008, The View Hotel is a Navajo owned business located within the Navajo Nation and the Navajo Tribal Park at Monument Valley.

The View Hotel features accommodations that serve the needs of visitors from around the world while blending with the environment so as not to detract from the beauty of Monument Valley. The three floors provide 95 rooms, each one with a private eastern facing balcony with views unlike anywhere else in world. The top floor features StarView rooms with unforgettable views of the stars, the entirety of Monument Valley, and serves as a perfect venue for amateur night-time long exposure photography without leaving the comfort of your room.

balcony_dsc_0093w1000Other amenities include Wi-Fi internet access in the lobby, conference room, a fitness center with sunset views, flatscreen televisions. Also included are in-room coffee makers with organic coffee and tea, a micro-frig, and microwave.

Unique to The View is the authentic Native American décor with a locally woven Navajo Rug, traditional Navajo dye chart, and other Native American inspired decorations.

New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley

A multi-dimensional campground, called The View Campground now offers a new way to enjoy Monument Valley. You can choose from RV sites, wilderness camp sites, or cabins. Each offers their own unique view of Monument Valley.

The cabins at the campground are called “The Cabins at The View.” Located just north of the hotel, the campground has 29 cabins that exemplify a cultural retreat and vintage peaceful pleasure.

The private, fully-furnished valley rim cabins offer a unique way to experience Monument Valley. Each cabin features a private porch that overlooks the valley and is decorated in an old west decor. Bedrooms are equipped with queen sized beds and an additional sleeper sofa can accommodate up to six guests. Each cabin also has a full restroom and shower plus refrigerator and microwave.

panorama1w1400-1024x242The View Campground also includes 30 RV spots and 30 wilderness campsites which attracts outdoor enthusiasts who want to capture the essence of rustic living and a dust of authentic Navajo history.

The RV sites feature the best sunset views of Monument Valley. All RV sites are dry camping with no hookups. A convenience store is located in the registration office and offers camping supplies, food, drinks, and ice.

The wilderness camp sites offer one of the best views from a campsite anywhere in the world. Located on the cliff-side of the park, the view is breathtaking. A full restroom and shower facility is available to all campers.

“The view captivates what we want visitors to see and experience,” said Armanda, Navajo/Dine.

In traditional Navajo culture, touching Mother Earth is a form of healing and medicine, so it was important to design the rooms with a ground level ambiance and give visitors a down-to-earth experience.

The Navajo-owned company hired up to 20 people during the peak of the tourism season in the summer. The campground was completed in June 2014; however, there are additional plans for improvement.

New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
New Way To Enjoy Monument Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The View Campground…where the stay is as important as the view. Is the perfect retreat to hear silent whispers of Navajo culture.

Details

Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park

Monument Valley boasts sandstone masterpieces that tower at heights of 400 to 1,000 feet, framed by scenic clouds, casting shadows that graciously roam the desert floor. The angle of the sun accents these graceful formations, providing scenery that is simply spellbinding.

The landscape overwhelms, not just by its beauty but also by its size. The fragile pinnacles of rock are surrounded by miles of mesas and buttes, shrubs, trees, and windblown sand, all comprising the magnificent colors of the valley. All of this harmoniously combines to make Monument Valley a truly wondrous experience.

Address: PO Box 360289, Monument Valley, UT 84536

Phone: (435)727-5874/5870 or (435)727-5875

Website: www.monumentvalleyview.com

Worth Pondering…

…and may you always walk in wonder.

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