Escapes: Can a March miracle save the wildflower bloom?

As dusk settles in, yellow wildflowers pop out of the landscape in late February in the southern part of Joshua Tree National Park.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

Wildflowers need a March miracle.

“Miracles,” Augustine of Hippo wrote, “are not contrary to nature, but only contrary to what we know about nature.”

Here’s what Californians know about nature: It’s fickle. Rain and snow were so bountiful last winter that the drought was pronounced dead. It was fun while it lasted.

March came in like a lamb with a bad temper (spitting a little bit), teasing us with a pitter here, a patter there — but is it enough to help the wildflowers? Maybe not. But there are only two ways to know, which we’ll share.


My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. Besides telling you what to watch for in our parks and hillsides, we offer you a primer on what you need to do if you’re hoping to bring plants across the California border, give you a suggestion on how you can be an environmentally friendly traveler, offer ideas on where to find your best spring break in California and explain how the DMV’s wording of some Real ID renewals is confusing. Plus a couple of pieces on the devil coronavirus. Plus, in the End paper, some sage advice about whether to travel that begins with pizza.

Now go wash your hands — not of us, just of COVID-19.

Where have all the wildflowers gone?

Cue the gossamer wings of hope. Cheer on the dark clouds and hope that the rain will fall. Wildflowers may depend on it.


That doesn’t mean there won’t be flowers, but you may have to look a little harder. Or maybe a lot. How will you know whether you should? Check out the Theodore Payne Wildflower Hotline, which is supposed to come online on Friday: (818) 768-1802, Ext. 7. And how will you know the likely places? That’s where we come in.

Once you find out where, get the scoop on how to navigate eight of SoCal’s wildflower spots. Mary Forgione’s guide to wildflowers will have you sounding like an expert, and Alex Pulaski gives the Palm Springs/Anza Borrego/Joshua Tree traveler some tips to expand beyond the bloom.

Dune evening primrose may bloom at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park in San Diego County.
(Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Tripping with plants

No, not that kind of plant. The kind you spy on a trip to Arizona or Mexico and want to bring back to California. Can you do that? You can, but it’s complicated. Here’s what you need to know if you’re returning home with green stuff (and I don’t mean money because whoever comes home with money?).


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Raising awareness of your environmental literacy

Nobody gets out of bed and says, “I want to be an environmental idiot today.” Terry Gardner, who is especially passionate about becoming a better steward of the Earth, provides some easy suggestions to soften our environmental footprint when we travel.

Wild poppies and other flowers bloom in the Armenian spring. It's time to consider lesser-trod destinations.
(Ralph Vartabedian / Los Angeles Times)

Words matter, DMV

Especially if you’re a literalist like me. (If you are, I’m very sorry.) When I received my driver’s license renewal form from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (I’ve had Real ID for more than two years so I was a very early adopter), it said I couldn’t get Real ID by mail or online. Huh? That’s not what I was told (and have been telling you) when I jumped through those first hoops to get it. Read what the DMV now says about those renewal notices.


Coronavirus updates

New cases of coronavirus prompted L.A. County and the cities of Pasadena and Long Beach to declare coronavirus emergencies on Wednesday, although neither Pasadena nor Long Beach had confirmed cases. But can you get your money back on a plane ticket if you don’t want to take a trip? That depends, David Lazarus writes. Find out what airlines are doing and how to navigate the uncertainty. Meanwhile, Hugo Martín reports on what airlines and cruise lines are doing to keep the bug at bay.

What we’re reading

River cruising has taken off like a Derby contender out of the gate, but there’s a twist, especially this year, Hannah Sampson reports for the Washington Post: The biggest growing segment is not the fairy-tale float down the castle-rich Rhine or the pretty-as-a-picture jaunts on France’s Rhône but the trips on U.S. waterways. Here’s the other news: It’s mostly baby boomers who are taking the trips, and the cruise companies, now including Viking, are actively marketing these Americana-rich trips to that demographic.

This one might not pass what we used to call the “breakfast test” — that is, it’s a story that might make you a tad queasy. But it was too delicious (sorry) to pass up. In 1876, in the town of Olympia Springs, Ky., a Mrs. Crouch was making soap in her yard when it began to rain … meat. It was mostly sunny, but the forecast did not include “with a chance of muscle, lung and cartilage.” The mystery was finally solved (or decided upon), Marina Wang writes for Atlas Obscura, and the denouement is not for the faint of heart.


You know those cool souvenir passport stamps that people sometimes like to collect? Be our guest, but don’t put them in your passport. That’s the hard lesson that Stacy Leasca, writing for Travel + Leisure, shares with us through the tale of Tina Sibley of the U.K. She had a “novelty stamp” from Machu Picchu in Peru, and her airline took exception to it. Read about how she finally got home after two airlines refused her passage — and about a valuable if painful lesson.

What you’re reading and I could be too

Other newsletters. Not that you don’t adore this one, but we have plenty of them, and you can find ones to suit your tastes and temperament. Did I mention they’re free?

The newly combined Saturday and Travel sections. It’s all part of a weekend package from the Los Angeles Times, which is important for anyone who lives and/or breathes Southern California. A subscription is the key to this kingdom.

Your thoughts — on anything, including this newsletter. I read all of them, use some of them and thank all of you for letting us know. Email me at


End paper

The best piece of advice I ever received about making a tough decision came from my sister. Two words: Pizza Hut.

She recommended taking a plain white piece of paper and drawing a thick line down the middle. While awaiting your pie — it had to be pepperoni — she and her husband would list all of the pros and all of the cons of the big decisions in life, including buying a house and starting a family.

This apparently was a successful strategy. They have lived in the same house for about 40 years, and they have two grown children who seemed to be well-adjusted, despite her inclination to worry obsessively. (She was a parent of young kids before the term “helicopter parent” was coined, but I believe if you look it up on the dictionary, credit will be given to her.)

I started thinking about all of this in light of coronavirus and the hard questions people are asking themselves about travel. Should I go? Should I stay? What about my investment? I’m writing later today on how to make that decision, which isn’t easy, especially if there’s major damage to your wallet or your heart.


But the crux of this matter was crystallized for me by a professor of business by whom I had the pleasure of being taught in a life-changing class and by a man who many said produced the first and best self-help book — in 1903.

The first piece of advice from Renate Mai-Dalton, professor emerita of the University of Kansas in Lawrence and now of Orange County, fits beautifully with the second from James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh.”

The first step, Mai-Dalton told me in an email: Try to separate emotion from the decision itself. Easy to say, not so easy to do. But it brings good results.

“The mind is like a garden which can be cultivated or allowed to run wild,” Allen wrote in “Thinketh.” “Either way, it will bring forth results. If seeds of intelligent thought are nurtured, they will grow into a healthful harvest. If the garden is left to chance, weed seeds will blow in and flourish, producing nothing of use.” (The edition of “As a Man Thinketh” that I’m reading was rephrased to modern language by Sam Torode.)


Whether you are deciding on investing a few million in bitcoin (um, maybe rethink that) or having a baby, read voraciously and educate yourself. The coronavirus is scary, but make sure your concerns are grounded in facts that consider where you’re going and what your health is like.

Then proceed with abandon backed by well-reasoned caution. Once you’ve made the decision — unless world conditions change — get on with it, whatever it is.

With this in mind, you will travel safely and well, as we always urge, and as we like to remind you, we will be here to welcome you home.