Festivals, Organizing Photos, Using Social Media & Planning the Trip Home

The days are filled with numerous events, activities, and happenings in Snowbird Land.

Mardi Gras parade
A Mardi Gras parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

There are important questions to consider in planning one’s day. When does the exercise class start? Water volleyball? Line dancing? What time is tee time? When does the hiking club hit the trail?

Consider the other events that occupy the weekly calendar. Pickleball tournament? Good exercise and competition. Book club? A wise choice. Quilting club? An honorable hobby. Card groups that meet regularly and offer company and social networking opportunities? Certainly.

There are snowbirds who take it a step further and volunteer at various organizations—hospitals, rescue shelters, and churches.

And there are festivals and other annual events, digital photos to organize, social media to communicate with family and friends back home, and with spring on the horizon, planning and preparing for travel back home.

Festivals

February and March is prime season for local festivals, parades, and annual events celebrating history and culture.

pet parade
A pet parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

The major celebrations, festivals, and fairs include:

Mardi Gras celebrations and parades in New Orleans, Mobile, and in communities from Galveston, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida, January 31-February 17

Florida State Fair, Tampa, February 5-16

Arizona Renaissance Festival & Artisan Marketplace, Apache Junction, weekends February 7-March 29

Tucson Gem & Mineral Show, Tucson, Arizona, February 12-15

Riverside County Fair & National Date Festival, Indio, California, February 13-22

La Fiesta de los Vaqueros (Tucson Rodeo), Tucson, Arizona, February 21-March 1

Florida Strawberry Festival, Plant City, February 26-March 8

Charro Days Fiesta, Brownsville, Texas, February 26-March 8

Fulton Oysterfest, Fulton, Texas, March 5-8

Tamale Festival
Take advantage of a festival near your snowbird roost. Pictured above the Tamale Festival in Indio, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Chandler Ostrich Festival, Chandler, Arizona, March 13-15

Organizing Photos

You have taken numerous photos with your digital camera and have downloaded them to your computer. But, have you sorted and organized them? If you shoot just 40 photos a week, you’ll end with more than one thousand digital files in six months—that’s a lot of photos to keep track of without some help!

The first step in organizing those photos is to select a photo management program. There are a number of excellent programs that organize, categorize, and keyword your photos so that you can store and locate your digital files without losing track of them.

One of the most important factors in selecting a photo organization program is ease-of-use. Your choices include the program that came with your computer, the software that came with your digital camera, free software such as Picasa or you may purchase your own software such as Adobe Photoshop Elements 12, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5, Adobe Photoshop CC, or Apple Aperture.

Using Social Media

Mardi Gras celebrations and parades in New Orleans, Mobile, and in communities from Galveston, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida, January 31-February 17
Mardi Gras celebrations and parades in New Orleans, Mobile, and in communities from Galveston, Texas, to Pensacola, Florida, January 31-February 17

Staying in touch with family and friends has changed over time. With recent technological advances more snowbirds are staying in touch through emails, texting, Skype, and social media.

An increasing number use facebook to stay in touch with friends and happenings in their snowbird community until they return the following season. Granted, some things that are posted by some of your friends you’d rather not see, but that too is a process of setting up the amount of information you wish to view.

Planning the Trip Home

With spring on the horizon most snowbirds are preparing to return home. From late February to early March many snowbirds begin planning for their pilgrimage back to their northern residences. Others delay their departure until the snowy mess up North is nothing but a distant memory. Still others break up their journey into segments taking several weeks to a month or more to reach their northern home.

Worth Pondering…

Life is short, live your dreams now!

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21 Tips for the Snowbird Asking, “Now What?”

Freedom is a wonderful thing. The kind of freedom offered by the snowbird lifestyle is the ultimate. What a life!

Mardi Gras parade
A Mardi Gras parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Home is where you park it. You’ve settled into your destination resort, your new home for the winter months. You’ve introduced yourselves to your neighbors and met several new friends.

You can choose to do nothing in particular and simply relax, socialize with your fellow snowbirds, and enjoy your winter home. Or you can opt for a more active lifestyle.

Following are 21 tips for the snowbird asking, “Now what?”

1. Many snowbird parks provide a wide variety of resort amenities and organized activities designed to keep their seasonal guests involved and active.

2. Computer rooms, game rooms with pool tables, tennis and shuffleboard courts, a pickle ball facility, and an arts and craft room frequented by quilters and sewing enthusiasts may be available at your snowbird park.

3. Check out the area’s visitor information center and local papers for current happenings, flea markets, arts and crafts classes and workshops, organized hikes, farmers markets, fairs and festivals, parades, and other events and happenings.

San Xavier del Bac
Explore the cultural history of the area. Pictured above San Xavier del Bac. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

4. Take time to savor the local culture and learn about the area’s heritage and cuisine. Attend lectures and seminars, plays, musical performances, and dances.

5. Natural beauty abounds in most locations. Check out national, state, county, and regional parks, national wildlife refuges, national and state forests, scenic byways, nature parks and centers, aquariums, wildlife and zoological parks, and game reserves.

6. Explore the cultural history of the area by visiting museums, historical and archaeological sites, and other significant landmarks where important events took place.

7. Take tours of churches, cathedrals, antebellum mansions, architectural and heritage sites, and other locations of historical significance.

8. Check out activities and classes offered by the local parks and recreation department.

9. Absorb the local culture by attending sporting events.

10. A visit to the public library makes for an interesting rainy day activity.

11. Give back to your snowbird community by volunteering at one of the many nonprofit agencies in the area.

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

12. Keep a journal/blog with photos of your snowbird activities to share with family and friends.

13. Make a start on sorting and organizing your photos; don’t forget to back up all digital files in case of a computer crash.

14. Take up a new hobby or sign up for a class to hone your current skills.

15. Take up bird watching. Many of the colorful birds found in Sunbelt regions are tropical species, reaching their northern range limits.

16. RVing can be even more memorable when it’s shared with other snowbirds at an RV rally. There are several different types of RV rallies including Good Sam Club National and Chapter rallies, manufacturer club rallies, and club rallies for RVers of similar interests.

17. RV shows are also scheduled with snowbirds in mind. There is no better way to shop for a new RV or upgrade your current one than by attending an RV show, where numerous dealers and suppliers come together to show off their wares. You’ll have an opportunity to check out a wide-range of recreational vehicles in one location, often at special “show prices”.

18. Dining comes in all shapes and sizes in the various Sunbelt locations including slow-cooked barbecues through to fresh-out-of-the-water seafood, Mexican and Cuban cuisine, Southern Cooking, Cajun and Creole specialties, fast foods, and buffets. Senior specials are available.

19. Walking, hiking, and playing golf are great ways to stay physically fit and to meet new people.

Tamale Festival
Take advantage of a festival near your snowbird roost. Pictured above the Tamale Festival in Indio, California. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

20. Take advantage of some of the celebrations, parades, and other special activities held near your snowbird roost. Whether you’re a foodie or sports nut, you’ll find a seasonal festivals or fun-filled event that will highlight your stay.

21. Consider mapping your return journey home into segments of several weeks.

Even after six months “on the road” you may not be ready to start the northern trek home. But before long you’ll begin planning your return to the Sunbelt next winter.

Worth Pondering…

As Anne Murray sings in the popular song, “Snowbird”:

“Spread your tiny wings and fly away

And take the snow back with you

Where it came from on that day…

So, little snowbird, take me with you when you go

To that land of gentle breezes where the peaceful waters flow…”

Happy snowbird travels!

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Birding in South Texas

Not fitting the stereotype of the avid birdwatcher who travels to the most exotic corners of the globe, many RVers simply want to be where the birds are.

A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home in the Mission area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A few of the hundreds of black-bellied whistling ducks that make their home in the Mission area. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Not wearing the latest outdoor gear, carrying the biggest scopes, peering through the most expensive binoculars, and checking another bird off the official life list, we carry our mid-priced super-zoom cameras and take great pleasure in seeing the beautiful creatures that fill the air with music and the skies with color.

That’s what draws us and many other snowbirds to South Texas.

Located at the southern tip of Texas, the Rio Grande Valley hosts one of the most spectacular convergences of birds on earth. Well over 500 species have been spotted in this ecowonderland, including several that can be found only in this southernmost part of the U.S. Each year, birders come to The Valley to see bird species they can’t find anyplace else in the country—from the green jay, black-bellied whistling ducks (pictured above), and the buff-bellied hummingbird to the great kiskadee (pictured below), roseate spoonbill, and the Altamira oriole.

The Great Kiskadee has a bright yellow belly and looks a little like a kingbird on steroids but with it’s bold black and white striped head, and reddish brown upperparts it is stands out from other species. It is also large (almost 10 inches in length) and loud, repeatedly calling out its name. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Great Kiskadee has a bright yellow belly and looks a little like a kingbird on steroids but with it’s bold black and white striped head, and reddish brown upperparts it is stands out from other species. It is also large (almost 10 inches in length) and loud, repeatedly calling out its name. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

After all, The Valley offers not just one but a total of nine World Birding Centers, and it’s located at the convergence of two major flyways, the Central and Mississippi.

Often referred to as The Texas Tropics, this area is very popular, too, with snowbirds from the Midwest and Central Canada. However, these winter tourists are not simply referred to as snowbirds but affectionately dubbed Winter Texans. After all, these birdwatchers and winter visitors are very important to the area’s economy, so they are, indeed, welcomed.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

The 760-acre park draws visitors from as far away as Europe and Japan hoping to spot some of the more than 325 species of birds and over 250 species of butterflies, many of them from neighboring Mexico and Central America.

green jay
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas and dense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Cars are not allowed in the park but a trolley makes regular pick-ups along the 7 mile paved loop allowing birders to hitch a ride from one feeding station to the next. It’s a quiet, beautiful, place and it is filled with birds.

As the trolley rounds the bend into the park visitors are frequently greeted by a sizable flock of the loud and raucous plain chachalaca, a brown, chicken-like species that’s found only in this part of the country.

To assist the casual birder Bentsen offers a series of bird blinds strategically placed near various feeding stations. The hut made of horizontally-placed wood slats is reached by a ramp so it is accessible to those with disabilities.

Inside the blind the wood slats can be folded down to form a platform for cameras so a tripod isn’t necessary to keep the camera steady. All you need to do is sit and watch the show as the birds keep coming to feed. We sat on a bench in the blind, peered through the opening and pressed the shutter repeatedly without disturbing the birds.

Yellow-breasted great kiskadees swooped down in front of us and drank from the small pool of water. This flycatcher has black and white stripes on its crown and sides, appears to be a kind of cross between a kingfisher and a meadowlark, and attracts attention by its incessant “kis-ka-dee” calls.

Green jays (pictured above) postured and fluttered at the feeders. This beautiful bird is, indeed, green-breasted (unlike our blue jay), with green wings, but there’s also some white, yellow, and blue plumage. This bird’s flashy coloring, boisterous nature, dry, throaty rattle, and frequent “cheh-chehcheh-cheh” call make it very easy to spot.

common pauraque
A widespread nightjar throughout the Americas, the Common Paraque reaches the United States only in the Rio Grande Valley. Its call is a loud burry whistle, “purr-WEEE-eer.” © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

A golden-fronted woodpecker fed at the peanut butter log. Barred with black and white above and buff below, the male has red restricted to the cap; nape orange; forecrown yellow; the female lacks red but has an orange nape. Its voice is a loud churrrr; the call a burry chuck-chuck-chuck.

Another World Birding Center located in McAllen, is at Quinta Mazatlan, a historic 1930s Spanish Revival adobe hacienda that’s surrounded by 15 acres of lush tropical landscape and several birding trails.

Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques (pictured above), green kingfishers, grebes, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, and roseate spoonbill.

The warm winter climate and the awesome bird watching attract Winter Texans to The Valley and keep them returning year after year. We’ll be back, Hope to see you there.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Top 7 Snowbird Hotspots

Cold winter weather is inevitable. But there is an escape.

Coachella Valley Preserve: A Desert Oasis © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Coachella Valley Preserve, California © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Residents of the northern half of North America have long found respite from winter’s chill by fleeing to the southern half. As refugees from the frozen north, snowbirds avoid winter’s bite, snow and blowing snow, and treacherous icy sidewalks and streets by migrating southward.

Northerners have a bounty of options for destinations. Many snowbirds are north-south creatures with Florida remaining a top spot for Easterners. Snowbirds from the Northwest settle in Arizona and southern California while those in the Mid-West are attracted to Texas. But these states aren’t alone in luring snowbirds, and even within each of these states there’s a bevy of choices to suit every traveler’s taste, interests, and budget.

While many snowbirds head directly south from their northern home and enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts, others cut across the country in a diagonal direction, exploring a whole new longitude. Still other snowbirds follow an itinerary across the Sun Belt sampling a variety of regions and roosts.

Here’s a look at six places that snowbirds might call their winter home.

Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Yuma and the Colorado River © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Palm Springs

Rich in natural beauty and blessed with glorious weather, Palm Springs and the desert resort cities of the Coachella Valley is a snowbird and vacation paradise, the ultimate desert playground. Part of the Colorado Desert, the area is bounded by majestic mountain ranges—the San Jacinto, San Gorgonio, and Santa Rosa mountains close by, the little San Bernardino Mountains to the west and the Chocolate Mountains to the east. This desert oasis is also known as a golfing paradise.

Key West

The southernmost tip of Florida has been the end of the line for eccentrics, free spirits, and creative types for a century or more. Ernest Hemingway and Tennessee Williams are among its former residents.

Yuma

Yuma’s wonderfully temperate winter climate makes this southwestern Arizona city a popular destination for snowbirds escaping their cold winter homes. Arizona’s warmest winter city and the sunniest year-round spot in the U.S., Yuma has an annual average of 4,133 hours of sunshine.

Yuma is a major growing region for lettuce, dates, broccoli, cabbage, and agricultural seeds. Some of the major attractions around the Yuma area include the historical Territorial Prison, the Yuma Crossing Historic Park, and the Kofa National Wildlife Refuge.

green jay
Green jay at Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center near Mission © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

San Diego

San Diego is the last major city in southern California before the Mexican border. Cosmopolitan, and upscale, the area is blessed with a Goldilocks climate that’s never too hot nor too cold, a natural beauty on the Pacific Ocean and a deep restaurant and entertainment scene centered around the central and walkable Gaslamp Quarter.

Mission

Located in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley, Mission welcomes the thousands of Winter Texans that call Mission their temporary home. Mission offers some of the most spectacular locations for birding and butterfly watching on earth. The Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park/World Birding Center and the National Butterfly Center have created havens for the special species unique to the area, and invite birders and naturalists to their sites by offering viewing stations, watching towers, interpretive centers, and various programs.

St. Petersburg

Along with beautiful beaches, St. Petersburg attracts visitors with the Salvador Dali Museum, Fort De Soto Park, and the St. Petersburg Pier. Beach Drive features a variety of dining and shopping opportunities. Glimmering between the Gulf of Mexico and Tampa Bay, St. Petersburg is known for its warm weather and delightful breezes, and fun in the sun.

Stretching outward, an army of saguaro cacti waved at me with their massive prickly arms. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
Saguaro National Park near Tucson © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Tucson

There are numerous reasons to visit Tucson and the many other historic towns and sights around Southern Arizona. Some snowbirds come for a week or two. Others stay for the season.

Some of the major attractions include Sabino Canyon, Saguaro National Park, Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, San Xavier del Bac (White Dove of the Desert), Catalina State Park, Kit Peak National Observatory, Tohono Chul Park, Pima Air and Space Museum, and Old Tucson Studios.

Worth Pondering…

When you are young, you dream of leaving your house on a set of wheels. When you retire you dream of living in a house on a set of wheels.

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Magnet For Birds & Snowbirds

They may be blue in the North Country, but in the Rio Grande Valley of South Texas, the jays have bright green backs, purple-blue heads with black trim down to the chest, and yellowish-green underparts.

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

The Valley, as it is affectionately called, is an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Starting in the east and heading west, there’s Brownsville, Los Fresco, Rio Honda, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, and Mission.

The Valley is one of North America’s meccas for birders. And the green jay (pictured above) is the official bird of McAllen, the area’s largest city with 135,000 residents.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park—an area well known by both birders and the U.S. border patrol—is a great spot for bird watching.

Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, just south of Mission, is not only Texas’ southernmost state park, but since October 2005, the headquarters of the World Birding Center.

Dozens of green jays along with the raucous chachalacas (pictured below), great kiskadee (pictured below), and Altamira orioles (pictured below) congregate around a series of feeders a short distance from the roadway at the first stop on a tram ride from the visitors center.

The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.
The raucous Plain Chachalacas are just one of the very common birds you can find congregating at feeding stations placed throughout the nature centers in the Rio Grande Valley. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

This is bird watching made easy in what is touted as one of the most ecologically diverse areas of the United States.

From an observation tower in the park’s south end, visitors catch a glimpse of the meandering slow-flowing Rio Grande and neighboring Mexico. Sharing the park with birders and cyclists, are numerous border patrol vehicles, keeping watch along irrigation canals for people trying to enter the US illegally.

The green jay, along with some 500 other species that stay in the Rio Grande Valley year-round, is one of many head-turning attractions for the tens of thousands of Winter Texans who flock to The Valley annually.

Those who like to combine birding with spectacular architecture do what we did and head to the city-owned Quinta Mazatlan, one of the largest adobe-style mansions in the US.

There, staff relate stories of Jason Matthews, the adventurer who is said to have fought the Turks with Lawrence of Arabia and who built the estate, including a rooftop “hooch” made of sticks.

The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The great kiskadee has yellow on its crown that is often obscured by the black stripes that frames it. However, if you get a view of the top of its head as I did in this photo, the yellow brightly stands out on this Rio Grande Valley specialty. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The place was nearly demolished after being damaged by a hurricane in 1967 but a local couple bought it for a song and restored it to the point it was honored for its splendor by the State of Texas.

At the end of the ’90s, the property was once again up for sale and the city outbid developers seeking to raze the mansion and develop the site. Now Quinta Mazatlan, like the state park, is one of the region’s most important birding areas and one of the most photographed spots in McAllen.

Edinburg Scenic Wetlands and World Birding Center sits on 40 acres within an Edinburg city park. Built on re-claimed farm fields adjacent to the city’s effluent and floodwater ponds, Edinburg Scenic Wetlands is a showcase for wildlife and a native habitat site set amidst an urban setting. Surrounding the Interpretive Center, the 3.5-acre native butterfly habitat offers some of the most diverse habitat in the region.

Waterfowl and shorebirds like the green kingfisher, black-bellied whistling duck, least grebe, and American avocet have a home here, and can be easily viewed from platforms overlooking peaceful freshwater lagoons. At least 13 species of ducks flock here in winter months.

Estero Llano Grande has a well-deserved reputation as a can’t-miss birding destination. At the geographic center of the World Birding Center network, Estero Llano Grande in Weslaco attracts a spectacular array of South Texas wildlife with its varied landscape of shallow lakes, woodlands, and thorn forest.

The Altamira Oriole is a bird of Mexico and Central America whose range just reaches into southern Texas. The largest oriole occurring in the United States, it makes the longest nest of any North American bird: its woven basket-like nest can reach 25.5 inches in length. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Altamira Oriole is a bird of Mexico and Central America whose range just reaches into southern Texas. The largest oriole occurring in the United States, it makes the longest nest of any North American bird: its woven basket-like nest can reach 25.5 inches in length. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Estero Llano Grande shares some of the same specialty birds as Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park. Commonly seen species include the great kiskadee, plain chacalaca, Altamira oriole, green jay, groove-billed ani, tropical parula, common pauraques, green kingfishers, grebes, coots, black-bellied whistling ducks, and an assortment of wading birds like the great blue heron, roseate spoonbill, and long-billed dowitcher.

The many area RV parks are packed with Winter Texans who have for decades discovered Texas as a more economical alternative to Florida.

Texas Spoken Friendly

Worth Pondering…

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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Escapees Expand Mail Services

Since 1985, Escapees Mail Forwarding Service has been assisting full-time and part-time RVers with all their mail forwarding needs.  As a licensed commercial mail-receiving agent, Escapees provides the largest, most economical service for RVers in the nation.

EscapeesMailServiceLogo2Livingston, Texas-based Escapees Club announced that its mail service has raised the bar again.

The new Escapees: Home satellite centers provide Escapees Mail Service members with a whole new level of flexibility, according to a news release.

This service is specifically designed for full-time RVers interested in maintaining a physical address in Florida, Texas, or South Dakota.

Escapees: Home offers Florida and South Dakota as home-base options and perfectly meshes those two satellite centers with Escapees’ sophisticated mail distribution center in Livingston, Texas.

“Whether you move for personal reasons, or state regulations create undue hardships, Escapees: Home satellite service allows you to change your domicile without alerting your entire list of correspondents,” said Teresa Moore, chief operations officer.

All Escapees Mail Service members receive their very own private mailbox number that corresponds with a Texas (Rainbow Drive) street “mailing address” for general correspondence. Those who select Texas as their domicile may use this as their physical address as well. This same private mailbox number will be used for Escapees: Home mail.

escapees logoEscapees Mail Service members who select the Escapees: Home option, may use one of the “physical addresses” the club offers for domicile purposes and have their state-specific mail (vehicle registration, driver license, and voter registration) sent there. Mail received at our satellite centers in Florida or South Dakota will be forwarded to the Texas facility for processing based on each member’s specific instructions. There is no additional charge for this service. Members pay postage only.

Details

Escapees Mail Service

Since 1985, Escapees Mail Forwarding Service has been assisting full-time and part-time RVers with all their mail forwarding needs.

Phone: (936) 327-8873 or (888) 757-2582 (toll free)

Website: www.escapees.com/mailservice

Escapees RV Club

Escapees-discount-highlightAddress: 100 Rainbow Drive, Livingston, TX 77351

Phone: (936) 327-8873 or (888) 757-2582 (toll free)

Website: www.escapees.com

Worth Pondering…

As you go through life, when you come to a fork in the road, take it.

—Yogi Berra

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Settling Into Your Snowbird Roost

Once you’ve decided on the region you’d like to visit, consider the RV park where you’d like to while away the winter months.

Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vista RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Many of these parks welcome snowbirds with open arms and even schedule special events or social mixers for their winter guests. Many parks also offer amenities that will keep you active through winter months.

Some RV parks even offer classes for snowbirds eager to learn a new skill or hobby. Come spring, you can impress your friends back home with the things you’ve learned and the photos you’ve brought back with you.

The choice is yours, but remember: You’re on wheels, so take advantage and go exploring. Wherever you land, you’ll find thriving snowbird parks packed with amenities and an abundance of on-site activities.

Joining the RV Snowbird Community

While some snowbirds spend the winter months traveling from one warm-weather location to another, others enjoy long-term stays at RV parks and resorts that cultivate a sense of community among seasonal residents.

Many snowbird parks provide resort amenities designed for long-term guests, including a Welcome Center, a well-appointed clubhouse and activity building, free cable or satellite TV and high-speed Internet at site, large swimming pools and heated spas, and fully-appointed fitness center.

Mardi Gras parade
A Mardi Gras parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

Many of the larger RV resorts have multiple halls with breakout rooms for activities,

classes, and special events. Computer rooms, game rooms with pool tables, tennis and shuffleboard courts, a pickle ball facility, and an arts and craft room frequented by quilters and sewing enthusiasts are also available for winter residents.

Other amenities may include a nine- or 18-hole golf course, a fenced-in dog park, stocked lake, onsite hiking and biking trails, croquet courts, movie theatre, large ballrooms, dining options, and a variety of activities. Some seniors-oriented RV parks have literally hundreds of organized activities to keeps seasoned snowbirds involved and active.

Everything from fun-filled activities to luxurious spa treatments, from sewing and quilting classes to exercise and meditation classes, such as yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong are offered.

Water aerobics, personal trainers, and professional entertainment including live musical concerts, comedy shows, and celebrity impersonators may also be offered at some winter resorts. Many 55+ RV parks also have a variety of arts and crafts classes, from painting to woodworking and lapidary where you’ll learn the art of jewelry making by cutting, grinding, and setting stones. Others may teach silver smithing and wire wrapping. Some parks offer gourd painting, Swedish blanket making, water color painting, woodcarving, pottery, and ceramics.

pet parade
A pet parade is a popular activity at many Sunbelt RV resorts. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved.

In some resorts many activities center around dancing, dance classes, and dance workshops (from pre-beginners to Advance II to Phase VI)—square dance, line dance, round dance, ball room dance, mainstream dance, pattern dance, tap dance, 2-step, waltz, cha-cha, Latin dance, Zumba, Jitterbug, Western Swing, Country Western dance, and clogging.

Pet amenities include off-leash dog areas, walking areas, and agility courses for people with dogs as well as special pet-related activities.

The resorts also offer periodic seminars on health related topics as well as potlucks, wine tastings, and organized tours to casinos and special events. Other 55+ resorts set aside an open area of the park where guests can grow their own organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs including kale, peppers, tomatoes, onions, and radishes.

Best of all, the active 55+ resorts are located in some of the most popular snowbird destinations in the Sun Belt, such as the rugged desert southwest, the tropical Gulf, and stunning Atlantic Coast.

Worth Pondering…

We have chosen to be reasonably warm year-round, so we are snowbirds. Every year when we hear the honks of the Canada geese overhead at our northern home, something in our genes starts pulling our inner-compass to the South. And an inner voice whispers: “Surely you’re as smart as a goose.” Feeling that I am at least as smart as a silly goose, I line up the RV with that compass pointer and head for the Sun Belt.

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2 National Parks That Are Best During Winter

Touring America’s national parks in an RV can be a transcendent experience.

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

Winter can be one of the best times to get out and explore the great outdoors. Although some parks may have limited access to certain areas due to ice and a heavy accumulation of snow, many of the unique natural environments found in America’s national parks are best appreciated during the winter months.

Many of the most famous national parks experience a drastic drop in attendance, allowing visitors better viewing opportunities amid less crowded conditions. In fact, you may just have the park mostly to yourself.

Many of these parks are located in the US Sunbelt offering snowbirds a wide variety of unspoiled landscapes to enjoy in warm comfort during the winter. This is a perfect time to visit one or more national parks.

With snowbirds and Winter Texans in mind, the following are my picks for the two best national parks to visit this winter.

Death Valley National Park

Death Valley. The very name repels. So do the superlatives: the hottest (134 degrees in 1913), driest (less than 2 inches of average annual rainfall), and lowest (282 feet below sea level) of the U.S. national parks. Nearly 550 square miles of its area lie below sea level.

Its forbidding name, suggests a vast stretch of nothingness. Boring. Bleak. Empty. Right?

Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley's forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes.
Looking out from Zabriskie Point, you are surrounded by one of Death Valley’s forbidding, almost unearthly, desert landscapes. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Dead wrong. Despite its inhospitable name, Death Valley National Park can, in fact, be quite welcoming, especially during the cooler winter months.

With average temperatures that hover around 120 degrees during the summertime, Death Valley National Park is best visited during the winter months. The typically harsh environment of Death Valley is much more inviting during the winter, with temperatures in the low 70s during the day and the high 30s during the night.

The largest national park outside of Alaska, Death Valley offers everything from snow-covered mountain peaks to sand dunes. It’s a spot unique on Earth, with high, snow-frosted 11,000-foot peaks towering over a valley that drops 282 feet below sea-level.

There are whimsical salt formations, reflective pools, and hidden side canyons. There are date palms, historic borax mining equipment, and volcanic craters.

Take a tour through Scotty’s Castle, one man’s dream retreat, or drive to Dante’s View as the sun leaves the valley. It’s a big park, with lots to see, and it’s a lot easier when the temperatures are in two, not three, digits.

Unlike many other parks, Death Valley’s peak season is during the winter and early spring. The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is the least-crowded. It is advisable to make camping reservations in advance.

Big Bend National Park

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The largest protected area of Texas, Big Bend National Park is perhaps most appealing in winter. Temperatures hover in the 60s, perfect for taking on the park’s nearly 200 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, which span desert, riverside, and mountain terrain.

The Rio Grande River borders more than 100 miles of the park, and scenic half-day canoe floats are available year-round.

Elevation in the park ranges from 1,800 feet along the river to nearly 8,000 feet in the Chisos Mountains. Temperatures can vary by 20 degrees between the two, so bring extra layers.

Rio Grande Village is the center of visitor activity during the winter months. Great scenery, warm temperatures, abundant wildlife, and full visitor services make this a must-see location for any Big Bend outing. Rio Grande Village has an NPS campground and visitor center, and a concession-operated camper store, laundry, and shower facility. The store also runs the Rio Grande Village RV Campground, the only campground with full hook-ups.

Ringed by massive cliffs and amazing views, the Chisos Basin is a year-round focal point. Numerous trails begin in the basin, and range from short walks to longer backcountry hikes. The paved, 0.3 mile Window View Trail provides an excellent place to view the mountain peaks or watch an evening sunset.

A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
A mix of desert, canyon, and mountain landscapes with many and varied desert plants and wildlife, Big Bend National Park is crossed by a few roads and many trails © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There are a number of services in the Basin including the lodge, restaurant, and camper store. A 60-site campground is located in the lower portion of the developed area.

Worth Pondering…

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

—Wallace Stegner, 1983

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The History of Winter Texans

Thousands of snow-weary northerners flock to Texas for the winter.

Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission.
Camping at Bentsen Palm Village RV Park south of Mission. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In Texas—a state famous for adding its unique flair—migrating snowbirds have been affectionately dubbed Winter Texans.

Most congregate in one of two areas: Coastal Bend and Rio Grande Valley.

The majority of Winter Texans flock to “The Valley”, an area near the Mexican border that stretches from Brownsville and Harlingen in the east to Mission in the west—a distance of about 65 miles. Starting in the east and heading west, there’s Brownsville, Los Fresco, Rio Honda, San Benito, Harlingen, La Feria, Mercedes, Weslaco, Donna, Alamo, San Juan, Pharr, Edinburg, McAllen, and Mission.

Technically not part of The Valley, nearby Rio Hondo, Port Isabel, and South Padre Island are also favorite roosts for Winter Texans. The South Padre Island beaches are never crowded, except during Spring Break, when no Winter Texan in their right mind would venture there.

The Valley lies at nearly the same latitude as Miami, Florida. Winters tend to be mild and a bit breezy; however, the weather can be unpredictable. The Valley enjoys a year ’round sub-tropical climate with an average temperature of 74°F. The average rainfall is 23.2 inches.

Black-bellied Whistling-Duck
The Black-bellied Whistling-Duck is a boisterous duck with a brilliant pink bill and an unusual, long-legged silhouette. Watch for noisy flocks of these gaudy ducks dropping into fields to forage on seeds in the Rio Grande Valley. Listen for them, too—these ducks really do have a whistle for their call. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Valley is arguably the best bargain in the U.S. for wintering in a warm climate. While the area offers everything you’ll find in other snowbird roosts, living costs are less expensive, with the added advantage of being right next door to Mexico.

Dining comes in all shapes and sizes in The Valley, beginning with Texas slow-cooked barbecues, where the pork, chicken, and beef fall off the bone, to Tex-Mex specialties, Mexican cuisine that’s as good as you’ll find in Mexico, fast foods, and buffets. Eating out here does not break the bank, and senior specials are available daily.

It has been said of The Valley that there are two kinds of ground cover: Perfect rows of irrigated citrus groves and winter vegetables; and semi-organized rows of recreational vehicles.

Local attractions, restaurants, and retailers go all out to lure these winter visitors. Newspaper headlines and signs welcome Winter Texans back home to The Valley.

World's Largest Killer Bee
Hidalgo is the “Killer Bee Capital of the World” and proud of it. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

In trying to define what makes the Winter Texans different from their Snowbird cousins in Florida, Arizona, and Southern California, it seems to do with their roots and why they spend their winters here. Winter Texans come primarily from a Mid-West, small-town or rural roots—not that much unlike those that winter in Yuma, Arizona.

Bird-watchers from around the world converge on The Valley to see rare and unique birds.

Mostly frost-free, the valley contains the northern-most extension of the Mexican subtropical biota ecosystem, attracting a variety of neotropical birds more commonly found in Mexico.

Much of the valley now supports extensive urban/agricultural activities, but numerous natural areas along the Rio Grande have been protected and provide oases for more than 500 bird species that reside in or migrate through this region.

Many of the subtropical species are south Texas specialties, meaning it’s the only location in the United States where these birds can be found.

There are probably thousands of stories to explain how the term Winter Texan first originated.  But few pre-date the one from Barbara Pybus who published a personal account on the Texas State Historical Association Web site concerning the winter immigration of her grandparents starting back in 1925.

According to the story, it was Edward Horace Tate and Lucinda Amanda Tate who may have been the first Winter Texans. Grand-daughter Barbara reports in 1925 the Tates joined a real estate excursion train at Roosevelt, Oklahoma, traveling to McAllen, Texas, in the Rio Grande Valley. Convinced of the health benefits of the region and after being impressed by the tour of the Valley, the Tates decided they liked it enough to purchase a parcel of property to be used a place to escape the Oklahoma winters.

Tens of Thousands of Snowbirds come to Texas for the winter where they transform from snowbirds to Winter Texans.

The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas anddense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved
The colorful green jay is usually seen in brushy areas anddense woods in the lower Rio Grande Valley.. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

We have wintered in Winter Texan Friendly RV parks in Harlingen, La Feria, Alamo, and Mission.

Approximately 15 percent of Winter Texans eventually make the Valley their permanent residence.

Come to Texas for the Winter, You’ll be glad you did! You may even become a Converted Texan.

Winter Texan is Better Than No Texan

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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Tips for Canadian Snowbirds

Each year, more than a million Canadian Snowbirds flock south to southern climes to enjoy warm weather.

Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona
Canyon Vistas RV Resort, Gold Canyon, Arizona © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Snowbirds need to know the rules of their roost and to do some serious planning. Too often, they overlook some important considerations.

Most Canadian citizens can legally visit the U.S. for up to six months (182 days) in a 12-month period. The number of allowable days doesn’t necessarily reset on January 1 just because the calendar year changed. The time is based on an individual’s travel dates, and can continue from one calendar year to the next. Every day spent in the U.S. through the year—from shopping trips to traveling between destinations—counts.

Canadian snowbirds need to prove to border officials that they have the means to support themselves during their stay. That means carrying a Canadian tax return assessment notice or bank statement. To prove to border officials that you’re planning to return to Canada, bring a Canadian property tax or rental receipts.

The length of time Canadians can stay out of the country also depends on their home province. Most provinces require you to actually reside in them for at least six months plus a day each year to maintain healthcare eligibility. If you exceed your allotted time out of province, you may need to undergo a waiting period to re-establish residency.

The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) has done an excellent job in evaluating each province’s healthcare program and how they meet the needs of traveling Canadians. The Canadian Travellers’ Report Card outlines each province’s residency requirements, provision for extended supplies of prescription drugs while traveling, reimbursement rate for emergency care.

Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, New Mexico, after a day of safe travel.
Hacienda RV Resort in Las Cruces, New Mexico © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

There’s more to leaving home than packing and locking up the doors. It takes planning to secure your home base and belongings and to make sure your abode is as welcoming upon your return as it was before you left.

Check the expiry dates of all personal identification, travel documents, RV and house insurance, passports, credit and debit cards, and driver’s license. Inform your bank and credit card companies of your departure and how long you’ll be out of the country. Consider setting up online banking and pre-authorized payments for bills.

Snowbirds should make copies of passport ID pages, planned itinerary, campground confirmations, driver’s license, insurance, and credit cards, stored separately from originals.

Contact your home insurance provider to determine how your absence will affect coverage, and whether semi-regular check-ins are required. If you don’t meet the policy requirements, you may find difficulty obtaining compensation should something happen.

Place a temporary hold on your newspaper delivery, and arrange with your local postal office to have your mail forwarded to a reliable mail forwarding service.

Don’t leave a message on the answering machine that tells callers you’re out-of-town.  Instead, say you’re away from the phone and you’ll get back to them.

Furnace Creek Ranch boasts the lowest-elevation golf course in the world
Furnace Creek Ranch boasts the lowest-elevation golf course in the world at 214 feet below sea level, tennis courts, spring-fed swimming pools, horseback riding, hiking trails, and carriage rides. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Unplug your automatic garage-door opener and install a lock on the garage door track, so thieves can’t use a crowbar to pry it open.

Inform neighbors of your trip, how long you’ll be away, where you’ll be traveling, and how to contact you in the event of an emergency.

Ask a friend, family member, or neighbor to regularly check the perimeter of your house, keep your sidewalks and driveway shoveled, and ensure that your doors and windows are securely fastened.

Disconnect all appliances and electrical devices, including microwave, washer and dryer, stove, refrigerator, coffee maker, televisions, entertainment centers, and lamps.

Make sure all smoke alarms are properly installed, in working order, and are equipped with fresh batteries.

Turn down thermostats to 50 degrees. Low heat will prevent a freeze-up.

Now, pack up the rig and head south.

Superstition Mountain Museum
To further understand and appreciate the Superstition Mountains area, its legend, history, and intrigue tour the 12.5-acre Superstition Mountain Museum, near Apache Junction, Arizona. © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

The Canadian Snowbird Association (CSA) is an essential resource for Canadians venturing to warmer climes for the winter. The association acts as an advocacy organization: lobbying the government for better healthcare rules and coverage, as well as an informational and social exchange for snowbirds.

The Canadian Snowbird Association has published the CSA Travellers’ Checklist which provides a list of important things to do before departing and while travelling.

Worth Pondering…

It started out a dream

A simple someday soon

But we worked hard

and made it real

This snowbird life

behind the wheel.

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