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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Arizona Adventure: 5 More Favorite Destinations

In an earlier post, I posed the question, What is your favorite Arizona destination?

Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sabino Canyon © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Since I found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination, I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Sabino Canyon

Located along Sabino Creek 12 miles from downtown Tucson, Sabino Canyon is a popular destination for exploring the Sonoran Desert. Soaring mountains, deep canyons, and the unique plants and animals of the Sonoran Desert found here draw over a million visitors a year. The wonders of the desert foothills and rocky gorges of the Santa Catalina Mountains are marvelous and accessible.

During the 3.8-mile tour into the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains, shuttle drivers recount the history of the canyon and point out sights along the way.

Bisbee

Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bisbee © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Bisbee, a quirky art town perched along cliffs, embraces its independent spirit and vertical nature—dozens of staircases are among the fastest, and most traveled, routes in town. Enjoy the art galleries and antique shops, then descend into a copper mine to see how Bisbee came to be.

Once one of the wickedest mining towns of the Old West, Bisbee is known today as an artists’ haven. Founded in 1880 and named after Judge DeWitt Bisbee, a financial backer of the Copper Queen Mine, Bisbee was one of the richest mineral sites in the world, turning out nearly 3 million ounces of gold and more than 8 billion pounds of copper.

Silver, lead and zinc were also mined from the rich Mule Mountains, and by the early 1900s, Bisbee was the largest city between St. Louis and San Francisco. During this time, although it had become the most cultured city in the Southwest, the notorious Brewery Gulch, which in its heyday had up to 47 lively saloons, created a rowdy Wild West reputation for the town.

Apache Trail

Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Apache Trail © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Apache Trail through the Superstition Mountains was built to supply construction workers building Roosevelt Dam in the early 1900s. When Theodore Roosevelt drove there in 1911, he compared the region’s beauty to that of Yellowstone and Yosemite national parks. Saguaro-covered hills and deep canyons stretch for miles, broken by red-rock cliffs and hoodoos.

The area is a favorite of sightseers, boaters, hikers, and anglers. The Apache Trail, aka State Route 88, is not for the squeamish or those afraid of heights. It’s full of twists and turns, rising and falling with the hills and valleys. Part of the road is paved; the graded dirt stretch is suitable for most cars but not recommended for large RVs.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum

Boyce Thompson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arborteum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Spring wildflowers, autumn colors, year-round birding, two miles of scenic walking trails, a picnic area shaded by Argentine mesquite trees are all available at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

At 323 acres, this park is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden, founded in 1925 by mining magnate and philanthropist Col. William Boyce Thompson.

The Arboretum features plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more. More than 270 species of birds have been recorded, including Gambel’s quail, Canyon wren, and black-throated sparrows, making it a prime spot for birders.

Maricopa County Regional Parks

Usery Mountain Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Usery Mountain, a Maricopa County Regional Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Looking for a quiet place to relax, do some bird watching, photography, hike a near-by trail, or do some great sightseeing?

With 10 regional parks totaling more than 120,000 acres, Maricopa County Regional Parks feature the nation’s largest county park system. More than 2.1 million visitors annually enjoy affordable outdoor recreation activities available in this diverse park system .

Favorite parks for camping, hiking, and other outdoor pursuits include Usery Mountain, Cave Creek, Lake Pleasant, San Tan Mountain, and White Tank Mountain. The positive surroundings and the competently maintained facilities attract people from near and far including numerous snowbirds that have discovered this central Arizona gem.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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What’s Your Favorite Arizona Destination?

Could you choose just one?

Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Grand Canyon National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

I tried, but found it impossible to choose just one favorite Arizona destination. Since every attraction has its own reason for making the list, it’s really like trying to compare apples to oranges.

I decided to create a top 10 list instead.

Even then, I had to settle on leaving the list in no particular order. Yes, I know, that’s a cop-out, but maybe being drawn to varied outdoor adventures and activities explains why I’m so attracted to the RV lifestyle.

Arizona’s most visited attraction is, of course, Grand Canyon National Park.

Grand Canyon National Park

No other canyon can compare with the most visited Arizona destination. It’s hard to imagine a trip to Arizona that doesn’t involve at least a peek at the Grand Canyon. A powerful and inspiring landscape, Grand Canyon overwhelms our senses through its immense size.

Visible from space, this massive gorge isn’t just a geological marvel, it’s a symbol of Western adventure and American spirit. Unique combinations of geologic color and erosional forms decorate a canyon that is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and a mile deep. One look over the edge and it’s easy to see why it’s considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.

Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Sedona and Red Rock Country © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sedona & Red Rock Country

Sedona is an Arizona destination not to be missed—a must-see wonders. Sedona easily makes the “A” list of RV destinations in the US due to its rugged western appeal and colorful rock formations. Tourists come from around the world to absorb the natural wonders of Red Rock Country and Sedona, its centerpiece.

Located at the base of Oak Creek Canyon, another scenic destination, Sedona is renowned for its stunning rock formations such as Coffee Pot Rock, Cathedral Rock, and Courthouse Butte, as well as its surrounding lush forests. Sedona has developed into a center for traditional and contemporary arts and offers a variety of galleries, boutiques, and specialty shops, and spiritual-energy vortexes.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Saguaro Cactus & Saguaro National Park

Native only to the Sonoran Desert, the saguaro cactus is practically synonymous with Arizona. Large and slow growing, saguaros can reach up to 70 feet tall and may not sprout an arm until they’re 100 years old.

Tucson is flanked on its western and eastern edges by Saguaro National Park, showcasing the giant cacti. Hiking is popular in both divisions of the park, but you can also drive the leisurely loop roads if you want to see the cactus forests from the comfort of your car. The park’s western division sprawls over the Tucson Mountains. In the eastern division, trails lead up from the saguaros into pine forests on the 8,000-foot summits.

Wildflowers & Picacho Peak State Park

Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Picacho Peak State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The precise prerequisites for a banner wildflower season—an early “triggering” rain, steady precipitation, and mild temperatures—make it about as reliable as a Vegas slot machine.

The sere landscape around Picacho Peak gets a splash of vibrant colors come spring, transforming it into one of the best wildflower spots in the state. The ephemeral Mexican goldpoppy is the litmus test for wildflower season: you’ll either spot sparse individuals or be blinded by a field of electric orange blooms. The more reliable brittlebush resembles a shrub sprouting a bouquet of mini-sunflowers. Your best bet for both is March.

Other good places to enjoy wildflowers include Pinal Pioneer Parkway, Boyce Thompson Arboretum, Apache Trail, Maricopa County Parks, Saguaro and Organ Pipe national parks.

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take desert creatures such as prairie dogs and Gila monsters and put them in a nearly natural outdoor setting. Add a dose of natural history and you have the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, a world-renowned zoo, natural history museum, and botanical garden, all in one place.

The Desert Museum is unique among zoological parks for its focus on interpreting the complete natural history of a single region, the Sonoran Desert. The museum has two miles of paths covering 21 acres of desert and features hundreds of creature species and more than 1,200 varieties of plants.

Please Note: This article is one of an on-going series on Arizona destinations.

Worth Pondering…

Newcomers to Arizona are often struck by Desert Fever. Desert Fever is caused by the spectacular natural beauty and serenity of the area.

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Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts

Spring wildflowers, autumn colors, year-round birding, two miles of scenic walking trails, a picnic area shaded by Argentine mesquite trees are all available at Boyce Thompson Arboretum.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

At 323 acres, this park is Arizona’s largest and oldest botanical garden, founded in 1925 by mining magnate and philanthropist Col. William Boyce Thompson.

In 1917 Col. Thompson served as co-leader of a Red Cross mercy mission to Russia, where he came to understand the importance of plants as the ultimate source of a large portion of mankind’s food, clothing, and shelter. It was then, that he determined to use his wealth to improve the use of plant resources. The Arboretum is one of his legacies.

Col. Thompson’s goal was to bring together plants from arid lands so that scientists and researchers could study, experiment, research, and investigate uses and attributes that made the plants unique. He also wanted the arboretum to be open to the public. By the time he died in 1930, the arboretum had already gained a reputation that extended far beyond the borders of Arizona.

Thompson’s home, the 8,000-square-foot Picket Post House, is immediately adjacent to the arboretum and is easily viewed from the far end of the main trail. It was in private hands for years, but in 2008, the state purchased it with Heritage Funds and it is now under park management.

The Arboretum features plants from the world’s deserts, towering trees, captivating cacti, sheer mountain cliffs, a streamside forest, panoramic vistas, many natural habitats with varied wildlife, a desert lake, a hidden canyon, specialty gardens and more.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cooperatively managed by the University of Arizona and Arizona State Parks, the arboretum sits at the base of the Picketpost Mountains and features a collection of 3,200 different desert plants in a unique series of botanical gardens, and a 1.5-mile main loop walking trail that roughly parallels the normally dry Silver King Wash.

The main trail begins at the visitor center and quickly enters the colorful Hummingbird/Butterfly Garden, with a collection of plants designed to bloom throughout the year to attract Arizona’s diverse hummingbird and butterfly species.

A 2.5-acre Demonstration Garden shows various plants in functional landscapes; an area complete with patios, walls, shade structures, vine arbors, walkways, and rockwork.

Several trails branch off from the first part of the Main Trail, so you don’t have to walk far to see the highlights, and much of the trail system is wheelchair-accessible.

The historic Smith Interpretive Center, a short walk down the main trail contains botanical exhibits and displays, and two display greenhouses feature cacti and other succulents that might not otherwise survive the winter cold at this 2,400-foot elevation.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shorter trails cut through three desert environments. Find native medicinal and edible plants in the Sonoran Desert; plants from desert landscapes in western Texas, southern New Mexico and Chihuahua, Mexico, in the Chihuahua Desert; and flora from the Cuyo, Monte, and Chaco regions of Bolivia, Argentina, and Paraguay in the South American Desert.

Look for the bizarre boojum trees from Baja California. The two specimens were brought here from Mexico in the 1920s and are the tallest ones on display in the U.S. The tall conical plants are related to the native ocotillo.

The Arboretum’s Australian Walkabout, Eucalyptus forest, South African collection, and herb garden offers more specific collections, colorful wildflowers, and varied cacti.

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More than 270 species of birds have been recorded, including Gambel’s quail, Canyon wren, and black-throated sparrows, making it a prime spot for birders. A checklist of birds is available upon request. Ayer Lake and Queen Creek on the Main Trail are good places to watch for wildlife; and you may even see endangered species such as the Gila topminnow and desert pupfish.

Queen Creek cuts through the Arboretum’s bottomlands, and supports the water-loving trees that take root there, including Fremont cottonwood, Arizona ash, black willow, and Arizona black walnut. Take a look at the spiny branched ocotillo, the green-stemmed Palo Verde, the thorny acacias, the low-growing mesquite, and the golden-flowered agaves.

Visit the Arboretum and have your horizons expanded as to the value and use of plants and trees from arid lands for food, shelter, and livelihood, both in the past and the present.

Details

Boyce Thompson Arboretum State Park

Elevation: 2,400 feet

Location: U.S. 60 near mile marker 223

Directions: From junction Highway 79 and Highway 60, 12 miles east on Highway 60

Address: 37615 U.S. Hwy 60, Superior, AZ 85273

Phone: (520) 689-2811

Entrance Fees: $10; children ages 5-12, $5; age 4 and under, free

Websites: www.azstateparks.com and www.ag.arizona.edu

Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Boyce Thompson Arboretum: Plants of the World’s Deserts © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Worth Pondering…

When I walk in the desert the birds sing very beautifully

When I walk in the desert the trees wave their branches in the breeze

When I walk in the desert the tall saguaro wave their arms way up high

When I walk in the desert the animals stop to look at me as if they were saying

“Welcome to our home.”

—Jeanette Chico, in When It Rains

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Take Only Memories, Leave Only Footprints

Get more out of life—take a hike!

Hiking the trails at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Writing-on-Stone Provincial Park in southern Alberta. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Now that we’re well into spring and getting ready for summer, it’s prime time to get out on the trail and enjoy the colorful wildflowers, wandering wildlife, and breathtaking views of the natural world.

One of the primary reasons hiking is such a transcendent experience is it offers the opportunity to get away from civilization to enjoy the beauty of the natural world.

June is one of the best months of the year for hiking because the wildflowers also bring a lot of other cool stuff such as butterflies and hummingbirds.

With so many exciting subjects to observe and photograph, it’s easy to forget that this is also one of the most fragile times of year for the natural world. So, it’s important to leave no trace when you’re out on the trail.

Or in the words of Chief Seattle, “take only memories, leave only footprints”.

Leaving no trace means you leave the wilderness as you found it or maybe a little better by picking up any trash you find. Whatever you bring in, you should also bring out. Pack out your trash and pick up any litter left by others. If everyone carried out additional debris left by others, litter problems would be quickly eliminated.

Hiking the trails at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Mount Robson Provincial Park in British Columbia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

It means the only things you take away are memories and photographs, and the only thing you leave behind is footprints. But, you should also be careful just where you leave those footprints.

Avoid stepping on plants (especially wildflowers), and stay on established trails as much as possible.

Read the signs posted at the trailhead. At some of the more popular trailheads, there’s often a large sign with a trail map, posted regulations, safety reminders, and sometimes special considerations for leaving no trace. Make sure you read and follow any rules specific to that trail.

Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

Learn the local ecology before visiting a new location. This will help you understand what’s endangered, what’s invasive, and how careful you need to be while you’re hiking through that area.

Observe wildlife from a distance. Do not follow or approach them.

Don’t feed the wildlife. NEVER feed wild animals. It not only ruins the wildness of the land, but it also makes the animal depending on human food.

To ensure you leave no trace, following are guidelines to follow when out on a trail.

Leave-No-Trace Principles

Plan ahead and be prepared.

Travel and camp on durable surfaces.

Dispose of waste properly and pack out your trash.

Leave what you find.

Respect wildlife and minimize impact.

Be careful where you step.

Be considerate of others.

Hiking the trails at Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Hiking the trails at Congaree National Park, South Carolina © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Leaving a wilderness area just as you found it will also ensure that the next visitor enjoys that same wildness you did.

Above all, be aware that you are not alone in the woods. Other wilderness hikers and campers also enjoy the solitude. Make as little noise as possible while hiking.

Let nature’s sounds prevail. Avoid loud voices and noises.

Worth Pondering…

May all your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view……where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you.

—Edward Abbey

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U.S. Forest Service: Celebrating Wildflowers

U.S. Forest Service promotes wildflower viewing in national forests lands.

The U.S. Forest Service has released an updated online wildflower map with hundreds of locations on national forests for prime wildflower viewing, making it easier than ever to enjoy America’s great outdoors.

The wildflower map includes 317 wildflower viewing areas on National Forest System (NFS) lands and can be referenced by specific states, individual national forests, and geographic regions, according to a news release.

“This updated map provides visitors a quick guide to find locations and best viewing times for the spectacular natural beauty of wildflowers on national forests,” said Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell.

“This is one more way folks can experience the bounty of natural surroundings.”

For many rural communities, the tourist revenue generated by thousands of wildflower festivals and events held each year helps support local economies.

According to recent research, viewing and photographing wildflowers and trees is the fastest growing nature-based outdoor activity.

Celebrating Wildflowers is dedicated to the enjoyment of the thousands of wildflowers growing on our national forests and grasslands, and to educating the public about the many values of native plants.

A narrative for each location describes the viewing area’s botanical habitat, the types of wildflowers that can be found by season, and recommendations for the best time of year to visit. Information on safety advisories such as animal habitats, clothing recommendations, insect or plant cautions, and traffic and parking tips are included.

Directions to the site, the closest town and contacts for more information are also offered.

The map is part of the agency’s Celebrating Wildflowers website which includes more than 10,000 plant images and information about the aesthetic, recreational, biological, medicinal, and economic values of native plants.

Celebrating Wildflowers emphasizes:

  • The aesthetic value of plants – a field of wildflowers is a beautiful sight
  • The recreational value of plants – picking berries is fun for the whole family
  • The biological value of plants – native plants support other life
  • The medicinal value of plants – chemicals from plants help combat sickness
  • The economic value of plants – plant material such as floral greens are commercially valuable
  • The conservation of native plants – protecting and maintaining native plant habitat

Feature sections focus on the role of pollinators, overviews of flower types, and spotlights on rare and interesting plant communities. An ethnobotany page highlights how people of particular cultures and regions make use of indigenous plants. Educational activities for kids and resources for teachers also are available.

Details

U.S. Forest Service

The mission of the U.S. Forest Service is to sustain the health, diversity, and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. Recreational activities on our lands contribute $14.5 billion annually to the U.S. economy. The agency manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world.

Website: fs.fed.us

Celebrating Wildflowers Program

The U.S. Forest Service started the Celebrating Wildflowers program in 1991. The program responds to public desire for information about native plants and their conservation. It is a way to promote and enjoy wildflowers on the 191 million acres of national forests and grasslands.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which manages 270 million acres of public lands, joined the program in 1994. Together, the two agencies now promote wildflower programs on about 20 percent of the nation’s landmass. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and USDA Agricultural Research Service have also joined the program.

In addition, groups like, garden clubs, botanical gardens, Native Plant Society chapters, nurseries, universities, and public schools actively participate in Celebrating Wildflowers.

Website: fs.fed.us/wildflowers

Worth Pondering…
The Amen of nature is always a flower.

—Oliver Wendell Holmes

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Enjoy Spring at a Texas State Park

With the redbuds and bluebonnets blooming, it’s time to get outside and enjoy spring in Texas.

(Credit: Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

“Much of Texas is still way behind its average annual rainfall, but it looks like winter rains in many areas of the state will make for an excellent spring,” says Texas Parks and Wildlife Executive Director Carter Smith. “Weather forecasters say we may still be in for more drought, so it’s a good idea to make the most of spring while it lasts.”

With apologies to a certain late night talk show host, here are the top 10 reasons to head outdoors and enjoy a great spring:

1. The fish are biting. The white bass, which travel like salmon upstream to lay and fertilize their eggs each spring, are already running in East Texas and in streams with sufficient water. The action should be starting any day now in Central Texas, with Colorado Bend State Park a perennial hot spot. Black bass are also heading into the spring spawning season with several ShareLunkers already on the board at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens. Plan a visit to TFFC for an up-close and personal look at these amazing fish. Likewise, conditions along the coast are heating up and a tour of Sea Center Texas in Lake Jackson offers a front row view of some impressive saltwater specimens.

Devils River Horsemint (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

2. It’s that time of year…Wildflowers. The wildflowers are beginning to bloom in all but the most drought-stricken parts of the state. Prime public viewing and photographic opportunities can be found in traditional wildflower havens such as Lyndon B. Johnson and Washington-on-the-Brazos state historic sites, as well as East Texas destinations like Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway, and Tyler and Purtis Creek. Sandy soils typically produce some of the better wildflower displays, so head to Palmetto, Inks Lake and Enchanted Rock State Natural Area to see bluebonnets, Indian paintbrush and other early bloomers. For wildflower sighting updates, starting March 15, call the Texas Department of Transportation Hotline at 1-800-452-9292. 

3. The camping is great. Take advantage of mild days and cool nights for overnight camping in more than 90 parks across Texas. Weekend campsites go early in the spring, so book your reservation early.

4. Go ahead, make some s’mores.In many parks, burn bans that were in place last summer and fall and have been lifted. Depending on the weather and altitude, it’s a wonderful time of the year to enjoy a campfire.

5. Hit the road, Jack. Well, hit the trail. Mild temperatures and relatively low humidity make it a perfect time to go for a hike. Not only will you enjoy the scenery and wildlife, from butterflies to game animals, you’ll burn off those s’mores you ate around the campfire.

6. It’s Texas history season. One hundred and seventy-six years ago, the Texas Revolution was underway. State parks at sites that played a role in the brief but sanguinary military campaign that gained Texas its independence from Mexico include Washington-on-the-Brazos, Goliad and the San Jacinto Battle Ground.

7. Go and park it. If you visit almost any of our state parks on weekdays, you’ll find them far less crowded than they are on weekends this time of the year. Try one of the typically less crowded hidden “jewels” such as Copper Breaks, Seminole Canyon, Caprock Canyons, Meridian, or Village Creek.

Goliad State Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

8. Head to the beach. If you don’t like crowds and partying, wait until Spring Break is over, and then pack your fishing gear, surfboards and sunscreen and head to the Gulf sands of Galveston, Goose Island, Mustang Island and Sea Rim state parks. You’ll not only enjoy great beaches, but a variety of camping options.

9. Go turkey hunting. Rio Grande spring turkey hunting season opens in March and Eastern turkey season starts in April. With an abundance of gobblers available, the prospects look good this season.

10. Spring is for the birds. Spring is one of the best times of year for birding. Discover more than 950 places in Texas to see our feathered friends by picking up a Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail or Great Texas Wildlife Trail map.

Related Stories

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Texas is neither southern nor western. Texas is Texas.

—Senator William Blakley

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Springtime in Full Bloom at Texas State Parks

What looks to be a promising wildflower season has started early this year and Texas State Parks remain some of the best and safest places to see and photograph a dazzling array of bluebonnets, mountain laurels, and other blooming flora, according to a state park news release.

This comes as good news for wildflower fans on the heels of last year’s record-setting heat wave and drought that make wildflower season a bust throughout most of a state that boasts more than 5,000 wildflower species. Most parts of Texas as of late, however, are benefiting from the late fall and winter rains and warmer-than-normal January and February temperatures.

Field of Blue Bonnets (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department botanists and state park natural resources specialists concur with Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center’s prediction of an impressive wildflower season thanks to well-timed moisture in central, eastern, and northern parts of Texas.

Even in drought-stricken West Texas, state park field reports show exceptions to the rule of a poor wildflower showing.

“The rains and snow, coupled with recent suitable temperatures have proven to be the perfect combination for a beautiful and prolific Mexican gold poppy blooming season,” reports Adrianna Weickhardt, interpretive ranger for Franklin Mountains State Park in El Paso. “We’ll be celebrating with the Poppies Festival at nearby Castner Range on March 31.”

“It’s a great spring in East Texas,” says TPWD botanist Jason Singhurst, who has been seeing lots of sandyland bluebonnets (Lupinus subcarnous) that are expected to reach full bloom in coming weeks.

Singhurst also looks for good crops of Texas groundsel, bluets, white trout lily, mayapples, and other flowering flora in the piney woods and post oak savannah of East Texas. He recommends Lake Somerville State Park and Trailway, and Tyler and Purtis Creek state parks as good wildflower-viewing locations in East Texas.

Roadside Flowers (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

TPWD botanist Jackie Poole concurs with her fellow botanist about a promising wildflower season and notes “some weird things happening” where spring bloomers are concerned around Austin.

“Texas mountain laurels already have bloomed ahead of agarita and Mexican buckeye that usually come first,” Poole says. “The drought may be causing some species to flower earlier or later than normal, but I’ve got a great crop of bluebonnets, as well as many other species, in my yard. Give us some sunny, warm days and things will really start to pop.”

Sandy soils typically produce some of the better wildflower displays, according to Poole, so wildflower lovers in central Texas should consider visiting Palmetto and Inks Lake state parks, as well Enchanted Rock State Natural Area north of Fredericksburg.

Just outside Bandera, park staff report “Hill Country State Natural Area has put on her spring bonnet with purple mountain laurel, hot pink redbuds, and bright yellow agarita bushes all ablaze. The fragrances are fabulous and the wildflowers are just starting up and promise to be in full bloom after early spring rains and sunny days.”

A healthy crop of bluebonnet rosettes spotted in mid-February are now starting to bloom in Goliad State Park, where spring arrived early, and park ranger Tammy Zellner promises “somewhat of a bumper crop this year.” In addition, she reports pink evening primrose, winecup, blue-curls, and Indian paintbrush are starting to put on blooms.

In parts of central and north Texas, Texans are already being treated to the colorful blooms of such flowering trees as redbuds, peach, pear, and Mexican plum. Judging from the profusion of pink blooms on peach trees recently spied around Fredericksburg and Stonewall, barring an unpredictable late spring freeze, peach lovers are in for a mouth-watering season.

Devils River Horsemint (Credit: Chase A. Fountain, © Texas Parks and Wildlife Department)

Wildflower season at Lyndon B. Johnson State Park & Historic Site takes on special meaning this year during Texas’ year-long celebration of the 100th birthday of one of the state’s biggest wildflower champions, Lady Bird Johnson, who would have turned 100 years old this December. LBJ Park Superintendent Iris Neffendorf expects showy displays of bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush along park trails and roads.

In honor of Mrs. Johnson, the park has installed a new wildflower display inside the Visitors Center to help with wildflower identification along the park’s nature trail that Lady Bird helped get developed and frequently strolled. On May 5 and 12, park will host a guided nature walk to highlight its flora, fauna and history.

Some of the most eye-popping wildflower crops to be viewed year-in, year-out are found in rolling, verdant Washington County. Washington-on-the-Brazos State Historic Site between Brenham and Navasota offers great wildflower diversity among 293 acres of natural riverside beauty, as well as an informative primer on early Republic of Texas history. Rewarding patches also can be seen near Houston at Brazos Bend and Galveston state parks.

Details

Texas State Parks

Website: tpwd.state.tx.us

For updated statewide wildflower reports, visit the Texas Department of Transportation’s Website.

For photos, fun facts and other information about the 5,000 species of wildflowers found around the state, visit the Wildflower Guide and Program.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

No matter how far we may wander, Texas lingers with us, coloring our perceptions of the world.

—Elmer Kelto

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Good News from Texas State Parks: Lake Whitney

A study by the Texas Coalition for Conservation found Texans spend upward of $1 billion every year when they visit the state parks.

Activities at Lake Whitney State Park include camping, hiking, mountain biking, picnicking, boating, fishing, scuba diving, water skiing, nature study, birding, and swimming. Photo courtesy TPWD

For every county with a state park, on average the park generates almost $3 million in annual retail sales and $1.5 million in residential income within that community.

Lake Whitney State Park

Nearly $3 million in improvements is scheduled for 45-year old Lake Whitney State Park. Thanks to bond funding authorized by the Texas Legislature and approved by statewide voters, Texas Parks and Wildlife is boosting electrical services in several Lake Whitney camp loops, adding new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant restrooms in the recreation hall, building a brand new restroom in one camping area, adding new sewer lines in another, and upgrading four screen shelters and their amenities to meet ADA standards.

ADA upgrades to the recreation hall and screen shelter area have already been completed.

Most of the electrical work in Big Trailer Park camp loop and several others consist of upgrading 30-amp outlets into the 50-amp pedestals. Lake Whitney State Park has numerous camping areas and four will get 50-amp outlets. Many sites get more than upgraded. Eight current “water only” sites will also get 50-amp electrical pedestals and sewer capability. All the water lines are being replaced in the Big Trailer Park camping loop.

Camping at Lake Whitney State Park. Photo courtesy web-connection.org

The park is located in the Grand Prairie subregion of the Black land Prairie natural region. It has open disturbed tallgrass prairie remnants with scattered groves of live oak and a small area of post oak/blackjack oak woodland. During spring, over 40 species of wildflowers including bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes cover the landscape. Common animals include white-tailed deer, raccoons, and squirrels with fox, coyote, and bobcat occasionally being spotted.

For swimmers and boaters, the park—only 61 miles south of Fort Worth and 38 miles northwest of Waco—is a doorway to almost all of 23,560-acre Lake Whitney on the Brazos River.

The Lake was formed in 1951 when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers dammed the river. Most of its camping areas are directly along the shore. In fact, many of the park’s 131 campsite spaces are on small fingers of land jutting into the lake.

Nature lovers will find a wildlife observation blind on the east side of the park and an interpretive trail on the west side.

Lake Whitney is one of the few Texas State Parks boasting a private plane airstrip.

The Lake

Lake Whitney is a beautiful lake with a lot to offer in recreational activities. Photo courtesy lake-whitney.net

Lake Whitney is located on the Brazos River. Brazos de Dios means “in the arms of God.” Lake Whitney is a large lake with 225 miles of shoreline and 37 square miles of coverage. Lake Whitney is 45 river miles long and is up to four miles wide at the widest point.

Bird watching is another great hobby in the Lake Whitney area. Since Lake Whitney is in the North American Flyway, more than 300 species of birds can be seen at various times during the year.  Swallows have made the holes and cracks on the unique rock formations along the lake their home and hundreds of the birds can be seen at one time. Be on the lookout for the American bald eagle. Every year, the bald eagle increases in number around Lake Whitney.

Details

Lake Whitney State Park

Elevation: 533-574 feet

Entrance fee: $3/person

Camping fees: Campsites with water, $14; campsites with 50-amp electric and water, $20; campsites with 50-amp electric, water, and sewer, $24

Location: 3 miles west of Whitney on FM 1244 on the shore of Lake Whitney

Directions: From I-35, take the Hillsboro exit; in Hillsboro take Highway 22 west to Whitney; then follow the signs to Lake Whitney State Park.

Address: Box 1175, Whitney TX 76692
Contact:
(254) 694-3793

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…
I am humbled by the forces of nature that continuously mold our great state of Texas into a beautiful landscape complete with geological diversity, flora and fauna. It is my goal as a photographer to capture that natural beauty and share it with others.

—Chase A. Fountain

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