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Travel

Escapes: Finding the solitude and sense of freedom that vacation affords

Beavertail cactus flowers at Gooseberry Mesa, Utah.
Beavertail cactus flowers in late spring season at Gooseberry Mesa, Utah.
(James Murren)

In March, 100 million people responding to a survey said they were traveling with family this year, the majority in spring and summer, AAA reported.

Does it feel as though all 100 million are tagging along with you?

We travel because the journey often confers on us a sense of freedom. School’s out, work’s on the back burner, the sun is warm, the water or the desert or the mountains beckon.

If you’re finding this year that there’s a little too much togetherness — we mean with your fellow travelers, not your family, which we can’t help you with — we have a couple of ideas in this week’s newsletter for keeping the madding crowds at bay.

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Plus we offer two Italy stories, including an off-the-beaten-path destination that may remind you of the fictional town of Bedrock, the end of a dispute that restores some classic names to Yosemite properties, the early closure of a Sierra ski resort (although, hello, it’s July) and much more.

Not to make you panic, but you have 46 days until Labor Day, and then that party’s over for another year. But this is California, where going and doing is almost always possible so let’s get to it.

Stepping out of Zion’s shadow

Utah’s Gooseberry Mesa is what Zion National Park is meant to be — a wonderland of vistas and nature with plenty of space to contemplate how the outdoors stimulates and calms by turns. Our story by writer James Murren wasn’t based on a first visit to this Bureau of Land Management area. “I heard of Gooseberry years ago … when I went to Zion and asked about places to get away from the crowds,” he told me in an email. “I went once, loved it, and went back again…. I simply love it there.” He plans to go again next year. “For me, being out on the mesa with the spectacular view, I feel a sense of awe.” That and the silence brings a sense of contentment, he said. And isn’t that what every traveler seeks?

Parks less traveled

It’s not just Zion that’s well-loved. Summer is prime time for all our national parks. It’s not that we don’t love parks such as Yosemite, but you can spread that love a little bit, Mike Morris writes, offering suggestions on other national parks in the Golden State that are lovely and slightly lonelier.

But meanwhile, in Yosemite…

It’s not the Majestic anymore. It’s back to being called the Ahwahnee! The iconic Yosemite hotel, which was renamed when Delaware North, its former operator, tangled with the National Park Service, can now be called the Ahwahnee again, after a $12-million settlement ($3.84 million paid by the U.S. government), Alex Wigglesworth writes. Other names are being restored as well, including Curry Village (which was renamed Half Dome Village).

Matera, Italy, rocks

Hundreds of caves cling to the hillsides of Matera, a town of about 60,000 in southern Italy. When humankind developed tools, many of those caves were fashioned into dwellings and, over the centuries, they became a slum. Cleared out after World War II, the Sassi, as the caves are called, were repopulated in the ’80s by people who promised to fix them up. And fix they did. Today they are chic restaurants, funky bed-and-breakfasts and cool shops. Further, Matera was named a European Capital of Culture for 2019 with special programming, John Henderson writes. It’s an unusual story of hope and redemption.

Matera’s Sassi, or caves, at night.
Matera’s Sassi, or caves, at night.
(Marina Pascucci)

Rome, sweet Rome — even with kids

Travel is not for relaxing, Shelly Rivoli writes. It’s about adventure. That’s what she tells her children, and to test that theory, she and her husband took them to Rome. Oh, you brave, brave parents. Pizza and gelato make up for quite a lot, it turns out, as did a sense of humor. It also helps that there’s no place like Rome.

More’s a barrier

One nice thing about vacation is that it’s not home. One bad thing about vacation is that it’s not home. The latter statement is especially true in matters of home security. For the millions who are taking time off this summer, this On the Spot column covers some high-tech and no-tech ways of making your home safer by adding what retired LAPD Det. Kevin Coffey calls “layers of protection” without spending a fortune.

A new item for your packing list

You have your packing cubes neatly arranged in your very compact suitcase. You remember your toothpaste, your unders, your dress-up outfit, your dress-down outfits. But did you pack a dose of humility? It’s the travel gift that keeps on giving, Jonathan Arlan writes, because travel is a crash course in making mistakes, in others making mistakes that affect you and the damage that a camel can do.

Petra, Jordan
A camel can take a traveler to many places, including new depths of embarrassment.
(Fabio Petti / EyeEm/ Getty Images)

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Soak it all in

If your body parts have rebelled, perhaps what they may need is a good soak, Sara Lessley writes. Her cure for what ailed her (a bum knee): the hot springs in Benton, Calif., just a whisker away from the Nevada border. The lodgings were inexpensive and the starry skies were free for the looking.

The Inn at Benton Hot springs
The Inn at Benton Hot Springs and the luscious green grounds all watered by continuously flowing spring water.
(Sara Lessley)

Mammoth closing early

Well, not exactly early but just not as late in the season as was first thought. The Eastern Sierra resort announced this week it would close July 28. There’s still time to take your last run on a ticket that also allows a host of other activities.

The year of the vegan cruise?

Vegans and vegetarian have found few choices in dining, until lately. Now cruise lines are beginning to address those dietary styles, Rosemary McClure reports. Of special note: Regent Seven Seas, which says it will add more than 200 such options to its menus. You also can see a list of vegetarian- and vegan-friendly ships, courtesy of Cruise Critic.

What we’re reading

The tragedy of drug abuse isn’t confined to the ground. A passenger on a Delta flight reportedly died of an overdose, TravelMole reports, and the airline responded by noting that Narcan, often used in cases of overdose, will be in its emergency kits beginning in the fall.

Christopher Reynolds confessed to the world in a recent article about failing to check the validity left on his daughter’s passport and discovering shortly before they were scheduled to travel internationally that it had expired. Now, Shannon McMahon reports for Smarter Travel that RushMyPassport has joined forces with FedEx to offer expedited passport service. Reynolds got help through our local passport agency, but this service does that for you, although it comes at a steep price.

Remember lard? You may not, and Southern Kitchen reminds us why. It may not be something you find often in kitchen these days, but Smithsonian.com suggests that it may have been useful to those who created Stonehenge, whose megaliths, it reports, may have been moved into place from as far away as 150 miles away. And to grease the skids, maybe literally, for moving these stones, some of which weighed 30 tons? All hail lard, this fascinating story by Meilan Solly says.

Stonehenge
The ancient Neolithic monument of Stonehenge. Did lard help creators have help in getting the monoliths to this site?
(Matt Cardy / Getty Images)

How to reach us, how to read us

Many people who communicate with us write to travel@latimes.com. During recent tech changes, many of those mailboxes, or public folders as we call them, have been disabled. They’re working on restoration but until then, if you have thoughts about the newsletter or other things in the Travel section, please email me directly: catharine.hamm@latimes.com. (Note the tricky spelling of Catharine.)

If you’re reading this newsletter online, why not subscribe and have it delivered to your inbox? You can find this and a host of other newsletters at membership.latimes.com/newsletters/.

And finally — or maybe I should say first and foremost — it is the Los Angeles Times that brings you relevant and, we hope, interesting Travel content and so much more. It’s the only publication that helps untangle the chaos (sometimes lovable, sometimes not) that is Southern California. It’s a bargain to boot. And you help us to continue to bring you what you want (and if we’re not, tell us that too). To see how: latimes.com/subscriptions/land-subscribe-evergreen/. We thank you.

End paper

Readers continue to delight, inspire and inform us with information on travel and on their travels and their experience. This email from Maureen Di Domenico of Costa Mesa was particularly enlightening and reminds me of how our travel discoveries can last a lifetime. Her letter focuses on the Matera story mentioned above.

“Brilliant memories of early intrepid forays into Italy rose after reading the recent Travel feature on Matera,” she wrote. “Who had even heard of it in 2003? Who knew of the English travel writer H.V. Morton’s ‘A Traveller in Southern Italy’?”

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She completed a walking tour in Sicily and was so excited about Matera that she decided to follow Morton’s route.

After they arrived at their lodgings, she said, “I looked out on the vision I’d conjured in my mind, and shed happy tears [and said to myself,] ‘This is exactly what I read about and wanted to experience!’ as the moon set behind the canyon beyond.

“As all things go, I’m a little sad 400,000 visitors ramble through the boutiques and restaurants that were only a vision in 2003.”

She said in a later email that of the dozen or so trips she has made to Italy, “this was the most amazing.”

A first visit to a destination that overwhelms you is a little like falling in love, when your brain releases chemicals that account for the starry-eyed, heart-fluttering feeling. The place will always be special, but I’m not sure you can ever go back and replicate that first time. What do you think, readers? Is it one and done or is it, like a first love that blossoms, a deepening of the feeling?

If you’d like to share your thoughts, send them to catharine.hamm@latimes.com. Please include your name and city of residence.

And wherever you are, travel safely and well, and remember that we’ll always be here to welcome you home.


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