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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4 Of The Best States for RV Travel & Camping

There are many great camping and outdoors destinations across the US―camping is abundant at national parks, state parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and wilderness areas.

Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Elephant Butte State Park, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Each state has a unique appeal, but four stand out from the rest as great RV travel and camping destinations: New Mexico, Utah, South Carolina, and Georgia.

New Mexico

Artists Ansel Adams and Georgia O’Keefe once made the landscapes of New Mexico famous, but New Mexico isn’t just for artists―there are great camping, recreational, and sightseeing opportunities.

New Mexico is home to Carlsbad Caverns National Park, numerous state parks, and historical parks. You can drive the historic US Route 66 or one of 25 scenic byways. In New Mexico, camping road trip possibilities are aplenty.

The camping possibilities are endless and quiet. The locals love their solitude and there is plenty of it. Famous for its beautiful skies, desserts, mountains, and grasslands, New Mexico offers an abundance of outdoor activities. You can hike, bike, ride ATVs and horses, hunt, fish, climb, and cave; in New Mexico, there is an outdoor adventure for everybody.

Utah

Arches National Park contains the world's largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arches National Park contains the world’s largest concentration of natural sandstone arches. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

With its diverse landscapes, geology, and recreational opportunities, Utah is an intriguing destination. Home to five national parks and seven national monuments, Utah is a paradise for RVers who love the outdoors.  Elevations rise and fall dramatically in the shape of mountains, buttes, and plateaus, the highest reaching over 13,000 feet.

Camp in the comfort of your RV and explore the awe-inspiring geology of Arches, Canyonlands, Bryce Canyon, and Capitol Reef national parks. A geological wonderland, Arches is one of Utah’s most accessible national parks. Towering spires, fins, petrified dunes, massive sandstone buttes, and balanced rocks complement the arches.

Scenic Byway 12 takes you to the heart of the American West. A journey like no other, this exceptional 124-mile route negotiates an isolated landscape of canyons, plateaus, and valleys.

South Carolina

Reedy River and Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Reedy River and Falls Park, Greenville, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

From the Lowcountry to lakes and blackwater rivers to Upcountry whitewater and waterfalls, you’ll find an endless selection of places to RV in South Carolina. From the foothills of The Upcountry to the fun activities of Myrtle Beach and The Grand Strand, unlimited camping opportunities await the RV traveler.

A land of rugged forested mountains, scenic lakes, rushing whitewater rapids, and cascading waterfalls, the Upcountry is a favorite outdoor adventure and family vacation destination.

Each year millions enjoy Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand vacations—drawn here for the swimming, sun bathing, boating, shelling, incredible seafood, and golfing.

With fun family beaches, over 100 championship golf courses, outlet malls, specialty shops, live musical theatre, nightclubs, and a variety of family attractions, Myrtle Beach and the Grand Strand is a the ultimate RV destination.

Georgia

Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Brasstown Bald, Georgia © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Georgia offers RVers unlimited travel options from stunning mountain vistas to rushing rivers and waterfalls, charming towns to bustling cities and unspoiled Atlantic beaches. A variety of RV adventures can be experienced throughout the state.

Stunning vistas amid Northeast Georgia’s mountains make this region a natural paradise for RVers. Outdoor activities include boating, fishing, and hiking. At an elevation of 4,784 feet Brasstown Bald is Georgia’s highest mountain. The re-creation of a Bavarian village complete with cobblestone alleys and old-world towers, Helen offers shopping, restaurants, mountain scenery, Oktoberfest, Alpenfest, and other seasonal festivals.

The Coast offers miles of shoreline, windswept dunes, and historic ports and towns. Savannah’s stunning architecture, 21 historic squares, and Low Country landscape make the city a top RV destination. Nestled along the coast are the city of Brunswick and four barrier islands: St. Simons, Sea, Little St. Simons, and Jekyll. A ferry ride from St. Mary’s transports travelers to Cumberland Island National Seashore.

Worth Pondering…

What a life. Today, it’s New Mexico, yesterday it was Utah, and shortly before that we were in South Carolina. Soon it will be Georgia.

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5 Obscure National Parks

The National Park Service, which is preparing to celebrate its centennial next year, set a record for guests in 2014 with 292.8 million visits.

Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Located on top of a hill the modern Visitor Center at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site overlooks the colonial and early-1800s iron plantation. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The previous record was set in 1999, when slightly more than 287.1 million people visited the parks. Visits were up 7 percent over 2013, when parks closed during a 16-day government shutdown.

The park service also released the list of most- and least-visited park sites in 2014. There were no real surprises on the most-visited list. The top five were the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Lincoln Memorial, and Lake Mead National Recreation Area.

But the list of least-visited park sites offered a few surprises.

Places such as the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve in Alaska are understandable because of their remoteness.

But a few seem as if they should attract more visitors.

Nicodemus National Historic Site in Kansas is the oldest and only remaining black settlement in the American West. Founded by freed blacks from Kentucky in 1877, the town provided a refuge for African-Americans fleeing the post-Reconstruction South. The visitors center is in the 1939 Township Hall. Visitors can also take a walking tour to see five historic buildings. The site had 3,374 visitors last year.

The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The inhabitants of Hovenweep were part of the large farming culture which occupied the Four Corners region of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Eugene O’Neill National Historic Site near Danville, California, includes the home of America’s only Nobel Prize-winning playwright. Visitors can take a free guided tour of the retreat that O’Neill dubbed Tao House and where he wrote Long Day’s Journey Into Night and four other plays. But the site can be visited only via park service shuttle from Danville, which, perhaps, discourages some potential guests. The site had 3,202 visitors in 2014.

Below are five of our favorite obscure, off the beaten path national parks, where crowds and jam-packed roads and parking areas are not an issue even during the peak summer travel season. Each is special in its own way.

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Pennsylvania

2014 visitor count: 48,105

Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site is the best preserved iron plantation in North America.

Hopewell Furnace consists of a mansion (the big house), spring and smoke houses, blacksmith shop, office store, charcoal house, and a schoolhouse.

In about 1100, the Anasasi settled near the present town of Aztec. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
In about 1100, the Anasasi settled near the present town of Aztec. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hovenweep National Monument, Utah

2014 visitor count: 26,808

A Ute word meaning “deserted valley”, Hovenweep is the site of six separate pueblo settlements, and probably more, considering that most of the 784 acres at Hovenweep have yet to be excavated. The monument is noted for its solitude, clear skies and undeveloped, natural character.

Aztec Ruins National Monument, New Mexico

2014 visitor count: 44,721

In about 1110, a wandering band of Anasazi, a skilled farming people looking for a new home selected a high ridge along the west bank of the Animas River, opposite the present town of Aztec. They constructed a large dwelling of sculptured and fitted stones. Built over a four-year period, it was an E-shaped structure of about 400 rooms and 24 kivas that reached three stories high in places.

discover this authentic Navajo trading post
Take some time to discover this authentic Navajo trading post and original 160 acre homestead. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Hubbell Trading Post National Historic Site, Arizona

2014 visitor count: 81,475

Very little has changed in more than a century at Hubbell Trading Post, the oldest continuously operating trading post in the Navajo Nation. The post, its thick stone walls protecting visitors from the blazing summers and frigid winters of the high desert, continues to lure buyers and sellers alike.

El Morro National Monument, New Mexico

2014 visitor count: 46,256

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.

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

Worth Pondering…

Traveling is almost like talking with men of other centuries.

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Summer Is Season of Road Trips But Where To Go?

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

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

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

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

Bardstown, Kentucky

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

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

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

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

Monument Valley, Arizona and Utah

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

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

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

Greenville, South Carolina

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

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

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

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

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

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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

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

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

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

Worth Pondering…

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

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Road Trip Nation: On The Road To Adventure

Summer has finally arrived, which means it’s time to hit the road in search of adventure.

Hyannis, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hyannis, Massachusetts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

So get out there and make some memories as you travel this beautiful country of ours.

But before you go, there’s the planning. Don’t just hit the road. Choose right.

The road trip is one of North America’s grand traditions—a chance to travel and see things from ground level. And with thoughtful planning you’ll avoid the “are we there yet” blues often associated with family vacations.

Where to road trip? Here are four road trips that will awaken your senses and make you glad to be “on the road again…”

Highway 6, Cape Cod, Massachusetts 

Cape Cod is an arm-shaped peninsula located on the Easternmost portion of Massachusetts. It is a well-traveled tourist and vacation area, featuring miles and miles of beaches, natural attractions, historic sites, art galleries, restaurants, and a variety of campgrounds and RV parks.

Scenic Byway 12 travels through some of the most diverse, remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Scenic Byway 12 travels through some of the most diverse, remote and ruggedly beautiful landscapes in the country. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Allocate some time to explore this charming 117-mile route that wends through Cape Cod. You will go through forests, past saltbox homes in colonial villages, tidal ponds, and eventually end up at the Provincetown harbor. Don’t miss the towering sand dunes and beaches.

Along the route you can enjoy a bike ride along the sandy shores or bask in the sun before finishing the day munching on a plate of delectable, fresh seafood. But be prepared to spend a lot of time on stops in quaint Cape Cod towns like Hyannis, Easton, Wellfleet, Truro. You will have good chowder. See sand dunes. Drink some craft beer. Hear the slapping Atlantic Ocean. Maybe buy some antiques. This is Americana.

Word of advice: stick with weekdays.

Scenic Byway 12, Utah

Highway 12 is one of the most scenic highways in America, receiving the designation of All American Road in 2002. The highway has two National Parks, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef, at each end and many other scenic points in between.

The route goes for 124 miles at significant elevations (9,000 feet) through forested mountains to the amazing bald mountains in Boulder. From there the road begins following a narrow ridge along the red canyons of Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bryce Canyon National Parks.

The Green-backed Heron, the smallest Florida heron, is found along the Tamiami Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Green-backed Heron, the smallest Florida heron, is found along the Tamiami Trail. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Around each bend, there are surprises: eroded towers and ramparts, dense forests of aspen and fir, pinyon and sagebrush, rolling slickrock, variegated buttes and mesas, snaking canyons, and rock walls varnished with mineral stains.

Part of the challenge of a road trip on Scenic Byway 12 is deciding which of several beautiful side trips to take: Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Escalante Petrified Forest State Park, Calf Creek Falls, Burr Trail, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Tamiami Trail, Florida

Take a scenic road trip through the Sunshine State, enjoying a route that connects historical Florida with its modern counterpart. A National Scenic Byway, the Tamiami Trail (U.S. Highway 41/State Road 90) is 264 miles of warm sunlight, salty breezes, and lush vegetation. The highway is described as the Beauty and the Beast of Florida roadways by the St. Petersburg Times, winding its way through the Florida Everglades, hammock oaks, and sandy pines.

Passing through Ruskin, Bradenton, Sarasota, Fort Myers, and Naples, the Tamiami Trail connects Tampa to Miami. It forms a portion of the northern boundary of Everglades National Park and provides access to Shark Valley Slough and observation tower. The road is the only way to access the Big Cypress National Preserve Visitor Center and Headquarters.

Okanagan Valley, British Columbia

Discover Okanagan Valley © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Now, let’s go RVing to the beautiful Okanagan Valley in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Osoyoos? Okanagan? Oh, and how do you pronounce that again?

The northern most point of the Sonora Desert is British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley.

Located in the southern interior, the Okanagan is characterized by a dry, sunny climate, beautiful landscapes, and a series of lakes. The mountains are lined with ponderosa pine, which give way to cacti, tumbleweeds, and fragrant sage brush. An ever-changing panorama, the valley stretches over 150 miles from Osoyoos in the south to Vernon in the north.

If you’re not familiar with this pocket of British Columbia, then think, peaches and beaches, wine-tasting, foodie-filled, great outdoor experience and fun in this, Canada’s only desert.

The pairing of some stellar Okanagan Valley wines is all part of the experience.

And that’s the beauty of the Okanagan Valley region, and Osoyoos in particular. Grapes grow alongside desert-like dunes; low-lying golf course greens huddle between mountain peaks.

Worth Pondering…

Free again! All it takes is a clean windshield and a full tank of gas, and you feel a terrible craving to be “on the road again”. Let’s see what’s over the next hill complex. Is that Willie Nelson singing. For real, there’s the music of this friendly engine pushing you along with the lyrics of the road.

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What Do Campers Want?

Families are camping mostly for recreation and are taking camping trips to spend quality time together as well as engaging their kids in outdoor activities.

Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

According to a recent survey conducted by Aramark’s leisure division, a food and hospitality partner for national and state parks, 56 percent of the respondents camp with children under the age of 18.

Being intimate with nature and enjoying outdoor recreation is a huge impetus to planned camping trips.

In releasing the survey results, Aramark said 76 percent of survey respondents placed a high value on proximity to hiking and biking trails and 83 percent valued water recreation. Thus, camping in national and state parks is an ideal way to ensure plenty of scenery and access to outdoor activities.

In addition to the importance of outdoor recreation, other things families often consider when selecting a campground include:

Amenities: While some enjoy traditional camping in tents with limited amenities, others are evolving with more modern tastes, placing a large importance on the availability of retail stores, showers, bathrooms, washers and driers, free Wi-Fi, or even zip lines and heated pools.

Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Proximity to Recreation: Many campers take part in activities such as boating, fishing, ATV riding, and mountain biking.

Safety: While camping is meant to be stress-free, safety should always be considered when selecting a site or area. For example, the presence of animals, falling rocks, troublesome plants such as poison ivy, or an area that is a target for lightening are all things families think about when planning a trip.

Scenery: Since being outdoors is the main reason families enjoy camping, selecting a scenic location can make it that much more enjoyable. Properties around lakes, mountains, or colorful trails are desired locations for camping excursions.

Proximity to Water: Although some don’t mind dry sites and they tend to be more secluded and quiet, it is important to consider how far away the site is from a water source. Being close to water is helpful for cooking as well as providing fresh water for drinking.

Destinations and Cultural Attractions Managed by Aramark

Almost 22,000 campgrounds exist across the United States. Below are examples of sites with a large variety of outdoor recreation making for great options for family vacations:

Lake Powell/Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, Arizona, Utah: Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Bullfrog RV Park & Campground, Halls Crossing RV Park & Campground, Hite RV Park & Campground

Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado: Morefield Campground, Fairview Lodge

Lake Tahoe Basin National Forest, Nevada: Zephyr Cove RV Park & Campground

Olympic National Park, Washington: Log Cabin Resort Campground, RV Park at Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort

Olympic National Forest, Washington: Lake Quinault Lodge

Details

Aramark’s Leisure Division

Aramark’s Leisure division delivers authentic and memorable experiences at national and state parks, national forests, conference centers, specialty hotels, museums, and other tourist destinations throughout the United States.

In partnership with its clients, Aramark seeks to enhance the guest experience by offering industry-leading hospitality, environmental stewardship, recreational and interpretive programs.

Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Wahweap RV Park & Campground, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Address: 2850 E. Camelback Road, Suite 240, Phoenix, AZ  85016

Phone: (602) 331-5200

Website: www.aramarkleisure.com

Worth Pondering…

Forests, lakes, and rivers, clouds and winds, stars and flowers, stupendous glaciers and crystal snowflakes — every form of animate or inanimate existence, leaves its impress upon the soul of man.

—Orison Swett Marden

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5 Great State Parks

In an earlier post I detailed My 5 Favorite State Parks. With nearly 8,000 state park in America, there are hundreds of state parks worthy of a visit.

A short loop nature trails at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A short loop nature trail at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Here are 5 Great State Parks.

Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California

The largest state park in the contiguous United States, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is flanked by rugged mountain on three sides and the Salton Sea to the east. Its 650,000 acres contain spectacular desert vistas, a variety of plant and animal life, and numerous archaeological, cultural, and historic sites.

Varying from stark dry desert mountains and canyons to lush palm-tree-lined oases, the park contains more than 100 miles of trails for hikers, backpackers, and mountain bikers, 500 miles of dirt roads to be explored by bicycle or motor vehicle, and steep paved roads for road cyclists who love a challenge.

Dead Horse Point State Park, Utah

Dead Horse Point State Park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park.
Dead Horse Point State Park features a dramatic overlook of the Colorado River and Canyonlands National Park. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The parking lot at Dead Horse Point State Park, 30 miles from Moab, is a few steps from one of the most dramatic vistas in the desert Southwest—looking down 1,000 feet to the top of Dead Horse Mesa, which itself towers a thousand feet above the Colorado River doing a 180-degree turn and wrapping around its sandstone base.

From the overlook, canyon erosion may be viewed on a grand scale. This erosion process has taken approximately 150 million years. Much of it is caused by the river slicing down into the earth’s crust as land is forced upward. These powerful forces are still sculpting the fantastic shapes of the precipitous bluffs and towering spires.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area, Texas

Enchanted Rock rises 425 feet above ground, 1825 feet above sea level, and covers 640 acres.

Enchanted Rock State Natural Area is one of the most popular sites in Texas for several reasons—the scenery is unusual, the summit is easily reached and has fine views over the countryside, different habitats harbor varied wildflowers, cacti and other plants, and there are good hiking trails and rock climbing routes.

There are two main trails. The steep and heavily traveled Summit Trail leads directly to the summit of the main rock, while the Loop Trail makes a four-mile trek around the entire complex of domes.

Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study.
Visitors to Enchanted Rock enjoy numerous activities, including hiking, backpacking, technical and rock climbing, primitive camping, picnicking, birding, geological study, stargazing and nature study. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palo Duro State Park, Texas

At 120 miles long, 20 miles wide in some places, and 800 feet deep, Palo Duro Canyon is the second-largest canyon in the country, behind the Grand Canyon. The Technicolor walls here make for high-desert scenery more commonly seen in southern Utah.

You can explore the 20,000-acre state park by hiking or horseback-riding, or even take a leisurely drive across the canyon floor. There’s tent, equestrian, RV camping, and three stone cabins built in the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps (since modernized), set on the rim with sweeping view of the canyon below.

From the end of May until mid-August, more than 60 actors, singers, and dancers take the stage at the park’s amphitheatre to perform Texas, a rousing musical that depicts the settling of the Texas Panhandle.

Hunting Island State Park, South Carolina

Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hunting Island State Park: South Carolina Paradise © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Approximately 3 miles long and 1 mile wide, Hunting Island State Park encompasses 5,000 acres of pristine sandy beach, maritime forest, the only publicly accessible lighthouse in the state, and saltwater marsh. It is classified as a true semitropical island. Hunting Island, the most popular state park in South Carolina, attracts more than a million visitors annually and was recently named a top 10 beach Trip Advisor.

Hunting Island possesses the best developed slash pine-palmetto forest in the state and is one of the best sites to observe South Carolina’s state tree, the Cabbage Palmetto, in its native habitat.

Hunting Island State Park is only 29 miles off Interstate 95, the main corridor between Florida and the Northeast, approximately halfway between Savannah and Charleston.

Worth Pondering…

Remember that happiness is a way of travel, not a destination.

—Roy Goodman

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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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Trio of National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore America’s national parks in an RV.

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

Many of the busiest national parks experience a major drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter.

With snowbirds in mind, the following are my picks for a trio of national parks that are best to visit during winter.

Joshua Tree National Park 

Joshua Tree National Park is an amazingly diverse area of sand dunes, dry lakes, flat valleys, extraordinarily rugged mountains, granitic monoliths, and oases.

Here the lower Colorado Desert meets the higher Mojave Desert, forming granite monoliths, rugged mountains, and surreal geology that lures hikers, desert rats, and rock climbers from around the world.

The park provides an introduction to the variety and complexity of the desert environment and a vivid contrast between the Mojave and Colorado deserts that range in elevation from 900 feet to 5,185 feet at Keys View. The Colorado Desert in the eastern section offers low desert formations and plant life, such as creosote bushes, spidery ocotillo, and jumping cholla cactus; the higher, cooler, and wetter Mojave in the western part is the natural habitat of the Joshua tree.

Cold nights and warm days make for ideal treks into palm-lined oases. Or, bike the dirt roads and watch the climbers scale the rocky heights.

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

Zion National Park

Zion National Park is known for its majestic towering rock mountains which rise to awe-inspiring heights. Zion is a lush green oasis, surrounded by startling sentinels of stone. With sheer, milky-white cliffs and pristine waterfalls, Zion is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

Zion National Park is getting more difficult to navigate with its single road into the canyon and a mandatory shuttle system during the busy months.

Exploring Zion Canyon, center of park activity, during the off-season gives one the flexibility that is impossible seven months of the year. From April through October, private cars are prohibited in the canyon, and visitors must use park shuttles. With 11,000 daily visitors, it’s hard to dispute the need for such restrictions. Still, it’s nice to be on our own—and free of crowds.

The main canyon in Zion was cut by the North Fork of the Virgin River. It is narrow, less than a quarter-mile wide. But it is deep, flanked by towering sandstone palisades 2,000-3,000 feet high that draw rock climbers who savor big walls. The six-mile canyon drive ends at a formation known as Temple of Sinawava, where the canyon begins narrowing to a slot only 30-40 feet wide.

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home.  © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument preserves a diverse and relatively undisturbed sample of the Sonoran Desert. Mountains surround the park on all sides, some near, some distant, with colors changing from one hour to the next. Ninety-five percent of the park is designated as wilderness area, which makes this one of the best places to view the Sonaran Desert.

The many branches of the organ pipe rise from a base at the ground, instead of growing like a massive trunk of the saguaro. It is a stately plant, with columns rising mostly like, well, the pipes of a church organ.

The organ pipe has company—25 other cactus species including the stately saguaro, chain-fruit cholla, teddy bear cholla, and Engelmann prickly pear, also make this park their home. A mature organ-pipe cactus may be more than 100 years old. A mature saguaro can live to be more than 150. Foothill palo verde, ironwood, jojoba, elephant tree, mesquite, triangle-leaf bursage, agave, creosote bush, ocotillo, and brittlebush also contribute to the desert landscape.

The 21-mile Ajo Mountain Drive is a one-way dirt road that winds and dips and provides access to some of the finest scenery in the park.

Twin Peaks Campground has 208 sites that are generally level, widely spaced, and landscaped by natural desert growth. The campsites will easily accommodate big rigs and are available on a first-come first-served basis. As well, Alamo Campground has four well-spaced, primitive spots.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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