Beat The Heat At Balmorhea

Come August, Texas is a scorcher.

A 3-acre reconstructed ciénega or desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 3-acre reconstructed ciénega or desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

But how to deal with the summer’s skyrocking temperatures?

Monstrous glasses of iced tea, squeezed with lemon. Frequent dips in the nearest swimming pool or swimming hole. Screened porches with ceiling fans which keep the mosquitoes and other buzzing nasties at bay while you listen to country music and search for fireflies.

Oh, yes—and a trip to West Texas, where you can escape the sun’s blaze in the most unlikely of places.

No, the mercury has not gone to my head, and, no I’m not confused brought on by excessive rays; nor am I crazy in the throes of a heat stroke. Just bear with me…

Balmorhea State Park, with the crystalline waters of San Solomon Springs hover between 72 and 76 degrees year round, is a most pleasant place to hang out in the anguish of a summer heat wave—or any other season, for that matter. Artesian springs like this gem in the Chihuahuan Desert are rare in the extreme. As an added bonus, the stars emerge big and bright and in the nearby Davis Mountains the temperatures dip into the 60s each night.

Kick back in Mother Nature’s cool West Texas backyard as you dip in these clear, blue-green waters, with tiny fish nipping harmlessly at you as you float.

No Chihuahuan Desert mirage, Balmorhea State Park’s aquamarine, spring-fed pool is nature’s answer to Texas’ summer sun. Set against the deep blue West Texas sky in the yucca-dotted foothills of the Davis Mountains, it feels a whole lot like paradise.

Dive into the crystal-clear water of the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool. Swim, scuba dive, or just relax under the trees at this historic park in arid West Texas.

San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

To call Balmorhea State Park a popular dive site is an understatement. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, which is the park’s low season, each weekend as many as 10 different dive operations find the friendly waters of San Solomon Springs ideal for certifying divers from entry level (Open Water) to specialties such as Rescue, Photography, Videography, Naturalist, or Night. Each of them brings groups of 10 to 15 dive students.

Call it oasis or paradise; scuba divers call it fun!

Balmorhea State Park, a 49-acre oasis of shimmering water, cottonwood trees, and adobe cottages was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the 1930s. San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks. All of the CCC buildings are constructed in a Spanish Colonial style with stucco exteriors and tile roofs.

San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks by the CCC. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Courts, an early expression of the modern-day motel, was constructed of adobe bricks by the CCC. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The park actually lies in Toyahvale, four miles south west of Balmorea proper.

Balhormea State Park’s enormous 1.75-acre pool, billed as the world’s largest spring-fed swimming pool, has a huge, underground aquifer system to thank for its clear and cool water. Rain falling on the nearby Davis Mountains seeps underground then flows through porous layers of limestone and emerges through at least nine springs in the middle of the pool at the rate of some 22 to 28 million gallons a day.

San Solomon Springs has provided water for travelers for thousands of years. Artifacts indicate Indians used the spring extensively before white men came to the area. In 1849, the springs were called Mescalero Springs for the Mescalero Apache Indians who watered their horses along its banks. The first settlers were Mexican farmers who used the water for their crops and hand-dug the first irrigation canals.

The park’s name comes from four men’s surnames:  E.D. Balcom, H.R. Morrow, Joe Rhea, and John Rhea: Bal-mor-hea. These men formed an irrigation company in the area in the early 20th century.

The springs and surrounding wetlands are considered a ciénega, or desert wetland. Much of the original desert ecosystem was altered years ago. Today, though, a three-acre, re-created wetlands at the park demonstrates the variety of plant and animal life that once flourished here. Rustling cattails and bulrushes harbor birds, butterflies, tiny pupfish, and other aquatic life.

Camping facilities include restrooms with showers and campsites with a shade shelter, water, electricity, and even cable TV hookups. 34 camp sites are available; six with water, 16 with water and electricity, and 12 with water, electricity, and cable TVs. Daily camping fees range from $11 to $17 plus park entrance fee of $7 per adult.

Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

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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Banff: Jewel of the Canadian Rockies

One of the best things about Banff National Park is just how accessible the scenery is. Impressive waterfalls, alpine lakes, craggy peaks, and surging rivers sit just a stone’s throw from the scenic roads and highway.

Mt. Rundle, a prominent wedge-shaped peak, overlooks the townsite of Banff
Mt. Rundle, a prominent wedge-shaped peak, overlooks the townsite of Banff © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Nestled amongst the towering peaks and stunning glacier-fed lakes of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is known as a traveler’s mecca for good reason.

Whether by car, RV, bicycle, hiking boots, skis, snowshoes, or canoe, in Banff National Park you can enjoy year-round discovery of the mountainous landscape. As the first national park established in Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, what makes Banff so special is its combination of vast unspoiled wilderness, mountain lakes like Lake Louise and Moraine Lake, and the gateway to it all: the Town of Banff.

Lake Louise has become symbolic of the quintessentially Canadian mountain scene. This alpine lake, known for its sparkling blue waters, is situated at the base of impressive glacier-clad peaks.

Located nearby, Moraine Lake, with its indigo blue waters surrounded by the Valley of the Ten Peaks, is another of Canada’s most iconic lakes.

Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Banff and the Canadian Rockies are a short day trip from Calgary © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Established in 1885, Banff was the first national park in Canada. In 1883, two years before the completion of Canada’s first transcontinental railroad, three railroad workers stumbled upon a series of hot springs on the lower shoulder of what is now called Sulphur Mountain. By 1885, the springs and surrounding area were set aside as Canada’s first national park.

The Canadian Pacific Railway immediately recognized the tourism potential of the Canadian Rockies. In 1888, they opened the elegant 250-room Banff Springs Hotel. Chateau Lake Louise soon followed.

Banff National Park sees 4 million visitors each year. The peak season is July and August.

The history of the area is also captured by a number of museums, including the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff Park Museum, Luxton Museum, and the Cave and Basin National Historic Site.

The hiking in Banff National Park is about as good as it gets—anywhere. What Banff has to offer is variety. Choose any difficulty level, length, and duration and you’ve got a multitude of options. You can hike along the shores of dazzling blue lakes, up to quaint mountain teahouses, through carpets of wildflowers, and up high to spectacular viewpoints.

Nestled amongst the peaks of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is known as a traveler’s mecca for good reason. Whether by car, bicycle, hiking boots, skis, snowshoes or canoe, in Banff National
Nestled amongst the peaks of the Canadian Rockies, Banff is known as a traveler’s mecca for good reason. Whether by car, bicycle, hiking boots, skis, snowshoes or canoe, in Banff National. Respect the fact that mountain weather can change quickly and it can be severe. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

For one of the most authentic experiences available to travelers in Banff National Park, hike to your choice of two alpine tea houses at Lake Louise. These historic cabins, nestled quaintly along some of the most breathtaking trails in the country, provide welcome rest and refreshments to visitors. While the hike to just one of these provides a rewarding experience for hikers of many abilities, adventurous hikers can take on the “Tea House Challenge” and trek to both Lake Agnes and Plain of Six Glaciers in one day (9 miles round trip).

To travel the Icefields Parkway is to experience one of Canada’s national treasures and most rewarding destinations. Rated one of the world’s great scenic highways by National Geographic, the Icefields Parkway is a world-class journey through a vast wilderness of pristine mountain lakes, more than 100 ancient glaciers, waterfalls cascading from dramatic rock spires, and broad sweeping valleys.

Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

This road heads north from Lake Louise towards the Columbia Icefield, where you can hop on the Ice Explorer and venture onto the Athabasca Glacier—or step out on the newly opened Glacial Skywalk. Other popular stops include Crowfoot Glacier, Bow Lake, and Peyto Lake.

Banff National Park is a haven for wildlife. While the likelihood of an encounter with an animal is unpredictable, when it does happen—and the animal is viewed from a safe distance—it can be a magical experience.

Watching a herd of elk in a field, big horn sheep grazing along the roadside, a mountain goat scaling a cliff, or a grizzly bear fishing in a creek is something unique to the natural world and the “big backyard” of Banff National Park.

Worth Pondering…

The mountains are calling and I must go.

—John Muir

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What to Do During a Wildlife Collision

In an earlier post on Vogel Talks RVing, I reviewed what drivers can do to reduce the chances of having a wildlife vehicle collision.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them.

Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. Reduce speed in wildlife zones. Drive defensibly and actively watch for wildlife, movement, or shining eyes on and beside the road. Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife.

One deer means more deer. Deer travel in herds and if you see one, slow right down as there will be many more. Moose are less gregarious, so one moose may simply mean one moose but it is still suggestive that more moose are in the area. And cows are frequently with a calf.

What if a Wildlife Collision is Inevitable?

In certain situations, there is no real choice except to hit the wild animal. Diminish the impact if it is inevitable. If an accident with a deer, elk, or moose is inevitable, consider the following suggestions for lessening the impact.

If it appears impossible to avoid the animal, aim for the spot the animal came from, not where it is going. This may take you away from it and the animal is more likely to keep moving forward rather than backtracking. This will only work if there is one animal.

Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Shift your line of eyesight to where you want to go, not at the animal. You tend to drive where you look―if you are looking at the animal, that is where the vehicle tends to go.

Try to skim rather than fully impact the animal. If you must hit something, try for a glancing blow rather than a head-on hit.

Brake firmly and quickly, then look, and steer your vehicle to strike the animal at an angle.

Take your foot off the brake as you impact.

The release of the brake causes a slight lift of the front end of the vehicle and reduces the chances of the animal coming through your windshield if your vehicle is tall enough.

If you’re heading into a collision, lean toward the door pillar. In the Mythbusters where they tested this, the center of the car was completely crushed in every impact but the triangle by the door pillar was intact in each accident. No guarantees are offered; you are far better off avoiding the collision.

What to do Following a Wildlife Collision?

This depends on the type and condition of the road, the amount of traffic, the type of animal, and the condition of the driver.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Take care after a collision with a deer, elk, or moose.

Check passengers for injuries and treat accordingly. Even if there are no injuries, shock may occur fairly quickly. Try to reassure one another and if it is cold, put on warmer clothing immediately as shock or fear increases the inability to ward off cold. If it is winter, stay in the car for warmth.

There are some important steps to take after assessing if everyone is relatively unharmed.

Pull off the road if possible.

Turn on hazard lights and if you can, illuminate the animal with your head lights.

Use road flares or triangles if you have them.

Warn other drivers if there is a carcass on the road which poses a hazard.

You may choose to carefully approach the animal to determine if it is dead or injured. If it is injured, back off. An injured animal can be very dangerous; it may kick or gore you from fear and pain.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

You may choose to remove a dead animal from the road so that it does not present a hazard to other drivers. Quick removal prevents other animals from being attracted to the highway. Only attempt to remove the animal if you are 100 percent certain that it is dead, it is safe to do so, and you are physically capable of moving it.

Inspect your vehicle to see if it safe to continue driving.

Call the police immediately or flag down help. Remember that most insurance companies won’t pay for the damages you suffer from hitting a deer or a moose if you don’t file a police report.

Report vehicle damage to your insurance company.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Eddie Cantor

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Top National Parks of British Columbia

The license plates say it all—“Beautiful British Columbia.”

Glacier National Park (Photo Credit: Parks Canada)
Glacier National Park (Photo Credit: Parks Canada)

British Columbia, Canada’s westernmost province is a land of lush forests, massive mountains, picturesque coastlines, and fertile valleys.

British Columbia is one of Canada’s most popular outdoor retreats. This vast province offers more natural wonders than any other part of Canada and, much like the American West, is an absolute haven for campers and RVers.

The origin of Canada’s National Parks lies in the mountain parks of Western Canada. Some of the first national parks are located in British Columbia. Yoho and Glacier national parks were among the first to be established. Later, Mount Revelstoke and the Kootenay national parks were founded. Today, the province of British Columbia features six national parks in total.

Glacier National Park 

Carved from the rugged Selkirk and Purcell Mountains by glaciers, Glacier National Park is bisected by the Trans-Canada Highway. This mountainous wilderness is named for its more than 400 permanent  glaciers. Today you will find rugged mountain landscape, narrow valleys, icefields, and glaciers. Many avalanche slopes, caused by heavy snowfall can be seen.

Kootenay National Park

Kootenay National Park (Photo credit: Parks Canada)
Kootenay National Park (Photo credit: Parks Canada)

Kootenay National Park showcases a diverse landscape of impressive range of mountains, lush meadows, crystal clear lakes, canyons, dense forests, and hot springs. Wildlife is abundant, with mountain goat, bighorn sheep, elk, mule deer, black and grizzly bear.

Marble Canyon is a 2,000-foot canyon carved out by the meandering Tokkum Creek. Today the walls of the canyon are so polished after centuries of wind and rain that the limestone walls resemble marble (hence the name). The Paint Pots is a series of pools formed by river minerals, compliments of the Vermilion River that flows nearby.

Mount Revelstoke National Park

Mount Revelstoke National Park (Photo credit: Summit Post)
Mount Revelstoke National Park (Photo credit: Summit Post)

Located near the community of Revelstoke, Mount Revelstoke National Park is bounded by the Trans Canada Highway to the southeast. The contrasting landscape ranges from dense rain forests and lush alpine meadows to rocky ridges and glaciers. Red cedars, more than 1,000 years of age, can be discovered on the Giant Cedars hiking trail.

Drive the 16-mile Meadows in the Sky Parkway as it winds up the side of Mount Revelstoke and its 6,388-foot summit. During the summer months, the meadows near the summit are a dazzling display of wildflowers.

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino (Photo credit: Tofino Accommodation)
Pacific Rim National Park Reserve near Tofino (Photo credit: Tofino Accommodation)

Pacific Rim National Park Reserve is a thin strip of land along the southwestern coast of Vancouver Island. Its magnificent islands, beaches, and dramatic seascapes divide into three geographically distinct park units: Long Beach (the most accessible), Broken Group Islands (about 100 islands in Barkley Sound), and the challenging 45-mile West Coast Trail.

The Long Beach Unit is located on the west coast of Vancouver Island between the villages of Ucluelet and Tofino. Long Beach is an almost mystical place, a broad and—yes—long beach of great waves and breathtaking beauty.

One of the best-known and most challenging hikes in North America, the West Coast Trail follows a rugged shoreline where approximately 66 ships have met their demise along this stretch of the “Graveyard of the Pacific”.

Yoho National Park

Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park (Photo credit: (Matthew Timmins)
Takakkaw Falls, Yoho National Park (Photo credit: (Matthew Timmins)

Named for a Cree expression of ‘awe and wonder’, a trip to Yoho is truly awesome. The park offers a diverse landscape of towering mountain peaks, sparkling lakes, expansive glaciers, thundering waterfalls, and spectacular alpine landscape.

These same features were the curse of railway engineers and inspired the construction of the Spiral Tunnels, an engineering marvel. Although many of its highlights are accessible by road, Yoho is also a hiker’s dream. Discover half a billion-year old fossils on a guided hike to the restricted Burgess Shale fossil beds or take an afternoon stroll around Emerald Lake or to Wapta Falls.

For more information on the national parks of Super, Natural British Columbia, visit www.hellobc.com.

Worth Pondering…

Mountains are earth’s undecaying monuments.

—Nathaniel Hawthorne

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How To Avoid A Wildlife Collision

Every year, deer, elk, and moose collisions are the cause of hundreds of thousands of vehicle accidents along North American roads.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Colliding with these animals, particularly moose, is potentially fatal for driver and passengers and is likely to cause significant damage to your vehicle—and to the animals.

To avoid a collision, whether driving a car, truck, or recreational vehicle, be alert and know what to do if you come head-to-head with one.

It is important for motorists to have information about the factors that influence animal behavior. This will lead to an increased level of understanding about when, where, and why wildlife is most likely to be present near the road.

Animals are active 24 hours of the day, and all year round, but records kept by insurance and government agencies show that there are some peak times when wildlife vehicle collisions may be more likely and drivers should be especially alert.

Drivers need to be alert and cautious because moose are on the move, according to the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department. Moose are more likely to be crossing roadways at this time of year, especially after dark or early in the morning as they move from wintering areas to spring feeding locations.

Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goats in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

More moose are hit by motorists in the spring than at any other time of the year. There is another peak of activity in September and October, the breeding season for moose.

Moose are especially difficult to see at night because their fur is very dark, and they are so tall that their eyes are normally above most headlight beams, and therefore their eyes may not reflect the head lights.

“Motorists hit 64 moose on Vermont highways during 2014,” said Col. Jason Batchelder of the Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department.

“We are asking drivers to be especially careful and for people to enjoy watching moose from a distance. Moose can be unpredictable and dangerous if you get too close and they feel cornered or get irritated.”

Most literature suggests that dusk and dawn are traditionally times of high wildlife vehicle collisions. Light levels are low, and animals are active at these times.

Based in British Columbia, the Wildlife Collision Prevention Program (WCPP) reports that 35-45 percent of all collisions with wildlife in British Columbia and Alberta occur between 7:00 p.m. and midnight with Fridays accounting for 15.8 percent of all collisions.

Deer are involved in approximately 80 percent of wildlife vehicle collisions. May and November have the highest rates of deer crashes.

Moose are involved in approximately 7 percent of all wildlife vehicle collisions. Due to the extremely large size of these animals, (a mature bull moose may weigh up to 1,200 pounds – 500 kg), there is a significant chance that a moose-vehicle collision will result in a human fatality.

Rocky Mountain Sheep. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Sheep. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Elk are involved in approximately 3 percent of wildlife vehicle collisions.

Avoiding a Collision

Wild animals are a threat to motorists, but there are measures you can take to avoid hitting them.

Watch for the Signs

Collisions occur most often in prime deer, elk, and moose habitat such as forested areas and waterways. Heed the warning signs and increase your roadside awareness. If you see a deer, elk, or moose crossing sign, be extra alert and slow down. These wild animals cross roads for a wide variety of reasons and at different times of the year. They cross the road randomly, as well as at their regular crossings.

Reduce Speed

Speed is a major factor in collisions. Wildlife experts have recommended 55mph/90 kph as a suitable speed for wildlife zones in good weather conditions, as it provides you with some reaction time to stop.

Drive Defensively

Actively watch for wildlife, movement, or shining eyes on and beside the road. Drivers should be cautious between dusk and dawn. Light levels are low, and animals are active.

Always be aware of the danger.

Observe your Surroundings

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Actively scan the sides of the roads as you drive for any signs of wildlife. Look on the road sides, the shoulders, down into ditches (they love the grass there), median strips, intersecting roads, on the road itself and try to spot any signs of movement, flashes of eyes or body shapes. Be sure to scan both sides.

Worth Pondering…

The best way of being kind to bears is not to be very close to them.
―Margaret Atwood, MaddAddam

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Are You Wildlife Aware?

Human encounters with wildlife increase in the spring as outdoor recreation becomes increasingly popular, bears emerge from their den, and wildlife species bear young.

Rocky Mountain Sheep lamb © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Sheep lamb © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Most regions of the U.S. and Canada are home to an abundance of wildlife. It can be exciting to see wildlife, but remember to enjoy wildlife with respect and caution and observe from a safe distance.

It’s important to be Wildlife Aware—be informed about bears and other wildlife and what to do when you come into contact with them.

Always give wild animals a clear escape route. Do not approach or crowd wildlife; doing so could make the animal stressed and unpredictable.

Many people enjoy feeding wildlife because it allows them to have close contact or because they believe they are helping the animals.

While seeing wild animals up close can be enjoyable, providing wild animals with a human‐supplied food source nearly always leads to problems for both the animals and humans. Feeding can create unintended conflicts with humans. Wild animals that are used to being fed by humans commonly lose their fear of people. Animals that are unafraid of people will approach them for food, and are sometimes mistaken as rabid, aggressive, or mean, then killed for that behavior. An instinctive wariness of people is important to a wild animal’s survival.

Be Wildlife Aware—and camp responsibly

Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Rocky Mountain Goat in the Canadian Rockies. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Sloppy campers and hikers don’t just endanger themselves, but also future visitors.

If an animal can’t smell your food, it won’t get your food. Keep a clean campsite. Pick up,

seal, and pack out every scrap of uneaten food.

If an animal can’t see your food, it won’t get your food. Once an animal finds food in a pack, box, or can, it will seek out similar containers with hopes of securing a easy meal.

If a wild animal receives a food reward from a human source, it can become food-conditioned. This behavior has resulted in the removal or death of many wild animals, and has also increased the risk of human injury.

Never feed or approach bears or other wildlife. Do not leave food out to deliberately attract bears or other animals. It is great to see wildlife but we should not be luring them to our camp or picnic sites by leaving treats.

Reduce or eliminate odors that attract bears. Store food in air-tight containers and store in your RV or car trunk.

Keep your campsite clean. Never leave cooking utensils, coolers, grease, or dish water lying around the campsite.

The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The elk or wapiti is one of the largest land mammals in North America © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Make garbage a priority. Always clean up spilled food or leftover food particles; strain all wash water and distribute it at least 200 feet from camp.

In terms of trash, pack out everything you pack in. Make sure the garbage is sealed in an odor-proof bag or container. Never throw leftover food down park toilets or box latrines.

And obey all closures and warnings.

Be Wildlife Aware—the rule about Wildlife is their unpredictability

Many species, such as white-tailed deer, do not constantly stay with their young and only return to feed them. While a fawn might look abandoned and alone, it is waiting for the female to return. A fawn is well-equipped to protect itself. By the time it is 5 days old it can outrun a human, and within a few weeks of birth, can escape most predators.

Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Bison © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The doe will return to the fawn several times a day to nurse and clean it, staying only a few minutes each time before leaving again to seek food.

For other species, the parent may return and become aggressive in an attempt to defend its young.

Chipmunks, squirrels and other rodents are usually a bigger nuisance than bears. Fortunately, the rules that work to help deter bears work for these animals, too.

Just because a squirrel doesn’t pose a threat to your life doesn’t mean you should forget about animal-proofing techniques when you’re not camping in bear country.

Worth Pondering…

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

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Balmorhea State Park: An Oasis in the Desert

Plopped in the middle of the prickly, dry Chihuahuan Desert of West Texas, the spring-fed pool at Balmorhea State Park is an oasis in the desert.

San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
San Solomon Springs is home to varied species of waterfowl and two thumb-size species of endangered fish: the Comanche Springs pupfish and the Pecos gambusia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And any time you have water in the desert it’s going to be a special place.

It’s a hot haul across I-10 from El Paso to San Antonio. Most RVers speed along in an air-conditioned hurry to the next big name destination. Little do they realize as they whiz past Exit 206 what they’re missing less than fifteen minutes off the freeway: 46 grassy acres with wetlands and towering cottonwoods that shade canals, an RV campground and motel-style retro lodging, and an immense enclosed spring-fed pool.

The pool is open daily. It is fed by San Solomon Springs; 22 to 28 million gallons of water flow through it each day. At 25 feet deep, and with a capacity of more than 3.5 million gallons, the pool has plenty of room for swimmers and offers a unique setting for scuba and skin diving.

The site has long attracted people: American Indians, Spanish explorers, Mexican farmers, and U.S. soldiers watered up here long before the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) turned a desert wetland into a spring-fed pool in the 1930s.

The CCC established a camp at the 1.75-acre swimming pool and built concession buildings and a park residence. They enclosed and sculpted the pool into a 200-foot circle over the spring and two long tangents (389 feet and 180 feet long) that form a “V.” At the end of one tangent, the depth is only three feet, making it an ideal area for swimmers and children. The entire area is lined with limestone and bordered with flagstone paving.

A 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 provides habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Private concessionaires operated the park until the 1960s, when the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department took it over. Today visitors flock from around the state and far beyond to dip a toe or two or scuba dive into crystal-clear waters of the enormous V-shaped pool with a natural bottom. On hot summer weekends, the park fills to capacity by noon and vehicles are turned away.

Native reeds and bulrushes sway in the San Solomon Cienega, a 3-acre reconstructed desert wetlands and canals built at the park in 1995 to provide habitat for migrating birds, and a refuge for indigenous aquatic, fowl, and amphibian life.

Set amongst canals, San Solomon Springs Courts offer motel-style retro lodging built by the CCC in the 1930s with a Southwestern adobe look. There are 18 rooms and all are designated as non-smoking.

Birders flock to the Park for sightings of phoebes, rails, kingfishers, sparrows, quail, wrens, hawks, pigeons, hummingbirds, roadrunners, and many others.

To call Balmorhea State Park a popular dive site is an understatement. From Labor Day through Memorial Day, which is the park’s low season, each weekend as many as 10 different dive operations find the friendly waters of San Solomon Springs ideal for certifying divers from entry level (Open Water) to specialties such as Rescue, Photography, Videography, Naturalist, or Night. Each of them brings groups of 10 to 15 dive students.

Call it oasis or paradise; scuba divers call it fun!

One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Solomon Springs may be the only dive site that provides entertainment for the whole family.  One can swim, scuba dive, snorkel, sunbathe, bird watch, picnic, play in the playground, sit under a shade tree by the springs, camp, enjoy the beautiful sunrises and sunsets, and motel or RV it.

Details

Balmorhea State Park

Entrance Fee: $7/adult; children 12 years and under, free

Camping: 6 campsites with water, $11; 16 campsites with water and electric, $14; 12 campsites with water, electric, and cable TV, $17; all campsites + daily entrance fee

Elevation: 3,205 feet

Directions: From I-10 westbound, take Balmorhea Exit 206, FM 2903 south to Balmorhea, then Texas 17 east 4 miles to the Park; from I-10 eastbound, take Toyahvale/Ft. Davis Exit 192, Ranch Road 3078 east 12 miles to the park.

Address: P.O. Box 15, Toyahvale, TX 79786

Phone: (432) 375-2370

Website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us/state-parks/balmorhea

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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San Gabriel Mountains Newest National Monument

A large area of the San Gabriel Mountains is now a national monument.

San Gabriel Mountains Newest National Monument
San Gabriel Mountains Newest National Monument

During the final day of a Southern California visit President Obama made the announcement during a signing ceremony in the wilderness northeast of downtown Los Angeles.

346,000 acres of national forest land—from Santa Clarita to San Bernardino—was set aside Friday (October 10) during a ceremony at Frank G. Bonelli Regional Park in the San Gabriel Valley community of San Dimas. The rugged mountains provided a backdrop for the event, at which Obama described the “magnificent” mountains as an important part of the nation’s history.

The towering mountain range, which spans 655,000 acres from Interstate 15 in San Bernardino County west to Interstate 5 in Los Angeles County, draws more than 3 million visitors a year who ski, bike, hunt, hike, and horseback ride in its remote reaches.

The snow-capped mountains in winter provide a postcard-perfect picture for the foothill communities of Fontana, Rancho Cucamonga, and beyond. They also provide a critical drinking water source for Southern California.

The exact boundaries of the monument, which is the nation’s 110th, have not been released, reported The Press Enterprise.

The snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains as seen from the Interstate 10 and 215 freeways in Colton. (Photo credit: David Bauman, Press Enterprise)
The snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains as seen from the Interstate 10 and 215 freeways in Colton. (Photo credit: David Bauman, Press Enterprise)

The national monument announcement caps an 11-year effort to earn federal protections for the land, which has been marred by graffiti and vandalism, and trails that have not been maintained, said Rep. Judy Chu, D-Pasadena.

“This marks the biggest change for the mountains since 1908 and is an important and immediate step towards fixing these problems. With this designation, the San Gabriels will become a priority, opening up new streams of funding that can be used to ensure that the mountains achieve their full potential for all the people who have gone there to hike, fish, or just enjoy fresh air,” Chu said in a statement.

While praise for the pending designation was widespread, so was the criticism.

San Bernardino County supervisors, who first found out about the proposed monument in late August, voted unanimously in September to oppose it.

“We’re outraged by the process that we’ve been completely excluded from,” said Janice Rutherford, chairman of the county Board of Supervisors whose district includes the south-facing side of the San Gabriel Mountains.

Rutherford and Supervisor Robert Lovingood traveled to Washington, D.C., on September 19 to meet with U.S. Department of Agriculture Undersecretary Robert Bonney and express their concerns.

A January 2008 storm left snow on the San Gabriel Mountains. (Photo credit: Kurt Miller, Press Enterprise)
A January 2008 storm left snow on the San Gabriel Mountains. (Photo credit: Kurt Miller, Press Enterprise)

“The National Monument proposal has bypassed public input from San Bernardino County residents, skirts Congress, and has failed to answer even the most basic questions on how this will impact the public,” said Lovingood, whose district includes north-facing portions of the mountain range.

Judi Nelson, the mayor of Glendora, said she fears such a designation will bring restrictions on the popular forest, which offers seclusion and the full gamut of outdoor activities.

“The National Forest Service has managed our mountains for over 100 years and they have done a good job, but they’re underfunded. And having this monument doesn’t mean there will be money,” Nelson said.

Proponents have said recreational activities will not be limited under the national monument designation, which could open lines of public-private partnerships. They said operations at the Mount Baldy ski resort will continue uninterrupted and cabin owners with federal leases will not be affected.

Members of the San Gabriel Mountains Forever Coalition, which includes business leaders, environmental groups, churches, and water districts, devoted years to winning the designation, which they say will provide improved visitor services, including safe river access, more rangers and multilingual signs and displays.

The forest and its rivers provide habitat for endangered and sensitive species, including Nelson’s bighorn sheep, California condors, mountain lions, and native fish, said Daniel Rossman, the group’s chairman.

“The San Gabriel Mountains are a dramatic landmark that can be seen from the desert to the sea,” Rossman said.

“And when it becomes a national monument, the forest will receive the recognition and attention it so rightfully deserves.”

Worth Pondering…

I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.

—John Burroughs

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Fall Camping Is Fall Foliage, Pumpkin Patches & Much More

It’s that time of year again and fall means pumpkin patches, corn mazes, and hay rides.

Sunrise with mist rising at our campground near Unadilla, Georgia.
Sunrise with mist rising at our campground near Unadilla, Georgia. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Of course one of the most compelling reasons to camp in fall is the burst of color on the trees as the leaves change to their autumn hues. Depending on the latitude and elevation, fall foliage is usually most stunning from September through October, but can linger into November. The reds, yellows, and oranges of the fall foliage will amaze you.

With the hot muggy days of summer behind us, camping takes on a new life. Chilly mornings, perfect hiking weather, and warm comfort food all come together to make fall camping a must-do for all camping enthusiasts.

The autumn season has always been a great time for camping. Few to no mosquitoes, cooler temperatures, beautiful colors, and quieter campgrounds all make it ideal. Winter will be calling before you know it so get out there this weekend and enjoy before the snowflakes start to fall. Many campgrounds close around Thanksgiving but many also have extended seasons so you can take advantage as long as possible.

In most areas of the country beautiful colors reign supreme during the fall season, which makes it a picturesque time to go camping. Though the northeast is known for its array of seasonal hues, there are a number of places from east to west and from north to south to go for an autumn camping trip.

If you’re not convinced, here are more good reasons to keep your RV or tent out just a little bit longer.

When camping in the fall, try apple picking, pumpkin picking and carving, attend local harvest festivals like Oktoberfest, Halloween events, and fall fishing derbies.

Cherohala Skyway
Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons especially along the Cherohala Skyway Scenic Byway, North Carolina. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Visit a farm market or u-pick orchard and discover the country’s harvest bounty.
Get out on a river for a paddling adventure.

Play a round of golf, where the rates, crowds, temperatures and bugs, are all lower.
Hike the backwoods trails and enjoy the quiet tranquility of the season.

Elk, moose, and deer are regulars in the mountains and migrating birds are everywhere.

Take your kids to a corn maze or haunted house.

Enjoy the fall beauty at a public garden or nature center where the autumn colors are in full display.

Take your adventures to the digital level by geocaching for treasures.

Look for roadside attraction such as the World’s Largest Cherry Pie (Traverse City, Michigan), World’s Largest Baseball Bat (Louisville, Kentucky), World’s Largest Pumpkin (Circleville, Ohio), World’s Largest Ham (Smithfield, Virginia), or World’s Largest Jackrabbit (Odessa, Texas).

Attend one of the many fall festivals and events being planned around your state—from art events to harvest celebrations and car shows to historical reenactments—there’s something for everyone.

Farmers market
Visit a farm market or u-pick orchard and discover the country’s harvest bounty. Pictured above a market in Holmes County, Ohio. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

And don’t forget the pumpkin patch.

To fully enjoy your fall camping trip, plan ahead and prepare a fall camping checklist.

Check the weather before you go: Don’t let the challenges of fall weather spoil your camping plans. Remember that warm weather can quickly turn. Depending on where you go, be prepared for the chance of snow, rain, or other severe weather.

Fall is known for temperature fluctuations, so pack layers of breathable, water-resistant clothing.

Even if the weather is predicted to be warm, pack a winter jacket, extra blankets, boots, and a snow shovel, just in case.

You don’t have to put your camping stuff away just yet.

Pack up the tent or RV, some cozy sleeping bags to keep warm, and hit the road for one of the many campgrounds across the nation.

Pumpkin Patch
And don’t forget the Pumpkin Patch. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Fall is one of the most beautiful seasons so come on out and enjoy a camping trip and take in some of that fall color.

Start your fall camping experience NOW! Create memories and go camping!

Worth Pondering…

There is magic in the air as September turns into October.

There is a ripening of the season as fruit trees grow heavy with red apples; leaves turn golden to reveal a harvest of pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, and peppers in the field; and grape vines hang heavy with clusters of newly turned black and golden grapes.

Enjoy your days and love your life, because life is a journey to be savored.

Grab the keys and let’s go RVing

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Texas Gulf Coast Habitat Becomes State Park

A multi-partner coalition including the Texas Parks and Wildlife (TPW) Foundation has announced the purchase of the 17,351-acre Powderhorn Ranch along the Texas Gulf Coast in Calhoun County.

Wetland Marsh Waterways at Powderhorn Lake
Wetland Marsh Waterways at Powderhorn Lake (Credit: Jerod Foster)

The acquisition will conserve a spectacular piece of property that is one of the largest remaining tracts of unspoiled coastal prairie in the state. At $37.7 million it is the largest dollar amount ever raised for a conservation land purchase in the state and represents a new partnership model of achieving conservation goals in an era of rapidly rising land prices.

In years to come, Powderhorn Ranch is expected to become a state park and wildlife management area.

Safeguarding this natural treasure has been contemplated for more than 30 years by several conservation organizations and wildlife agencies including The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD). Along with the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF), these organizations are playing a critical role in the acquisition and long-term conservation of this property.

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is spearheading the fundraising for the $50 million project, which includes the purchase of the property, habitat restoration and management, as well as a long-term endowment.

Aerial Photo of Fringe Marshes Along Powderhorn Lake
Aerial Photo of Fringe Marshes Along Powderhorn Lake (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

The real estate transaction has been more than two years in the making. Powderhorn Ranch was previously owned by Cumberland & Western Resources, LLC, whose primary investors are conservation-minded citizens who sold the property below its market value to ensure its permanent safekeeping.

A significant portion of the funding for the project is being provided by NFWF’s Gulf Environmental Benefit Fund, which was created with dollars paid by BP and Transocean in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. NFWF has committed $34.5 million over the next three years, making this the biggest land acquisition in the nation so far using BP spill restoration dollars.

The acquisition will protect in perpetuity unspoiled coastal land with forests of coastal live oak and intact wetlands. This range of habitats is perfect for public hunting, fishing, hiking, paddling, and bird watching. These nature tourism activities currently bring hundreds of millions of dollars to the Texas coast.

Cactus and Wetlands Along Powderhorn Lake
Cactus and Wetlands Along Powderhorn Lake (Credit: Jerod Foster)

The property also includes thousands of acres of freshwater wetlands and salt marshes that offer vital fish and wildlife habitat, provide natural filtering to improve water quality, and shield people and property from storm surges and sea level rise. The ranch includes more than eleven miles of tidal bay front on Matagorda Bay and provides habitat for hundreds of species of birds and animals, including the endangered whooping crane.

Details

Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation

Founded in 1991, Texas Parks and Wildlife Foundation is the non-profit funding partner of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

Website: www.tpwf.org

National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF)

The National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) protects and restores our nation’s wildlife and habitats. Chartered by Congress in 1984, the Foundation directs public conservation dollars to pressing environmental needs and matches those investments with private contributions.

Website: www.nfwf.org

The Conservation Fund

For nearly 30 years, The Conservation Fund has been saving special places across America. They have protected more than seven million acres nationwide including more than 193,000 acres of natural lands across Texas, including the Big Thicket National Preserve, Fort Davis National Historic Site, San Bernard National Wildlife Refuge, and along the Neches River and the Gulf Coast.

Website: www.conservationfund.org

The Nature Conservancy 

Powderhorn Ranch Regional Context Map
Powderhorn Ranch Regional Context Map (Credit: Earl Nottingham/TPWD)

The Nature Conservancy has been responsible for the protection of more than 119 million acres of land and 5,000 miles of rivers worldwide and the operation of more than 100 marine projects globally. In the Lone Star State, The Nature Conservancy owns more than 30 nature preserves and conservation properties across Texas.

Website: www.nature.org/texas

Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD)

The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) operates 95 Texas state parks, natural areas and historic sites, 46 wildlife management areas, three saltwater fish hatcheries, and five freshwater hatcheries.

Website: www.tpwd.state.tx.us

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

What Texans can dream, Texans can do.

—George W. Bush

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