Escapes: Shed the travel blinders and find the unexpected U.S.


It’s amazing what you’ll find hidden in plain sight in this country’s 37.8 million square miles if you look beyond your biases.

My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the oft-surprised travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. Welcome to Unexpected America, a cool package of articles about destinations you might not know about.

We have other surprises too: a mysterious side of Lee Vining, good news for vegan/vegetarian cruisers, bad news for budget watchers in Vegas; and odd news from the cabins of America’s airlines. All this and more as we begin the dash to summer’s unofficial end. And one last thing (besides the End paper), if you’re taking a car trip, please read the nugget about unsafe roads in California and the West. And we’re off.


It’s not what you don’t know...

It’s what you think you know that can hurt. To wit: The flyover states are a cultural desert. Or you can’t find a decent bar in Salt Lake City. Pshaw. In Door County, Wis., you can find fine theater at a fraction of the price you’d pay in a metro area, Roger Rapoport writes. And you’ll find a lively bar scene (micro brews!) in Utah’s capital, James Charisma reports. Then there’s the odd story of the town across the river from Cincinnati that almost became Las Vegas, but for fate, Chez Chesak writes; and, by Karl Zimmermann, why Redlands in our Inland Empire has Mohonk Mountain Resort in New York at its heart. Enjoy.

The mystery of the messages in Lee Vining

Think of the markings on the trees as postcards from the past. You can learn more about these arborglyphs at a seminar in Lee Vining, but you also can explore Mono Lake (which has its own mysteries), volcanic craters and more in a place that is “more than a pit stop before Tioga Road,” Sara Lessley writes.

Basque Shepherd's arborglyphs carved on aspen trees in Lee Vining.
(Sara Lessley)

No beef about this development

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, the food frenzy that is a cruise hasn’t always been part of your culinary milieu. But vessels are increasingly beginning to cater to those choices, Rosemary McClure writes. She tells you about plant-based options that cruise chefs are embracing, including the much-talked-about Impossible Burger, the meat-free patty that is said to have the taste and mouth feel of a classic burger.

Now you can see more of Hollyhock House

The Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home, recently added to UNESCO’s World Heritage sites list, is opening new areas of the 20th century house to visitors, Jeanette Marantos writes. What makes this masterpiece particularly interesting? Ailene Barnsdall, the oil heiress who commissioned Hollyhock House, fired Wright and never lived there.

More of Hollyhock House, a Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece and his first project in Los Angeles, will be open to visitors.
(Barbara Davidson / Los Angeles Times)

An open-closed-open case in San Francisco

Here’s another architectural gem that has opened a second time: Salesforce Park in San Francisco, a lovely spot of green that has opened or, we should say, reopened. The 5.4-acre park opened above a transit center last August but closed when structural issues were discovered. Christopher Reynolds takes a look at this urban respite, which you can reach by gondola (or elevator if you prefer).

Before you step foot in that car...

Read Christopher Reynolds’ article on the deadliest roads in California and the West. A surprise or two in this list, but also confirmation of what you already suspected. If you’re planning one last blast before summer passes, read this before you embark on your trip.

Three Vegas hotels raise resort fees

What if your room rate went up by 15%? Would you be annoyed? Probably. And you’d also be in Vegas, where three more properties have joined two others in increasing resort fees to $45 a night, Jay Jones writes. The fees are tacked on for amenities you don’t always use (swimming pool and towels for same, in-room phone, fitness centers and more), and what those amenities are varies from property to property. Can anything be done about these fees? My “On the Spot” column (online Friday and in print Sunday) will talk about pending litigation.

Are you a headphone offender?

Elliott Hester, who has been a flight attendant for more than three decades, explores what happens when people don’t use headphones on a flight. (Hint: discomfort among passengers that flight attendants must resolve.) Read his Fly Guy column to find out who the biggest (and most surprising) transgressors are and what you can do about any in-air sound-blaring miscreant.

What we’re reading

As one of my very wise colleagues says (thank you, Laurie Armstrong, of San Francisco Travel), if you don’t ask, the answer is always no. Jason Rudge, who works at the Pittsburgh airport, asked the airport’s chief executive about creating a place that helps special-needs passengers who are getting ready to fly. (Rudge has a son who has autism.) That 1,500-square-foot “sensory suite” opened last month in Concourse A, Katherine LaGrave reports for Afar. It’s decorated in calming colors and has real airline seats to help with the familiarization.


In an article datelined Loburi, Thailand, Prapan Chankaew, writing for Reuters, reports on a once-submerged Buddhist temple that has been exposed because of a prolonged drought. The reservoir is used for water for farmland and usually can provide moisture for more than a million acres; this year it will cover about 3,000 acres. If it rains again, the temple will again be underwater.

Women in Saudi Arabia continue to gain rights long denied them in the restrictive country, L.A. Times correspondent Nabih Bulos writes. Previously, women couldn’t get a passport or travel without permission from a man under a guardianship system. Those days will soon be over. Women also now can drive, although they can’t yet live alone or marry without an OK.

A Saudi woman rolls her suitcase at the departure hall of the Jeddah Airport on Aug. 6.
A Saudi woman rolls her suitcase at the departure hall of the Jeddah Airport on Aug. 6. Saudi Arabia’s easing of travel restrictions on women was hailed in the kingdom as a leap for gender equality but angered others.
(AFP/Getty Images)

What you also could be reading

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Thank you for being part of a 137-year tradition that’s anything but traditional.

End paper

The recent mass shooting in El Paso resonated for many of us who belong to SATW (the Society of American Travel Writers). We will have our long-planned annual convention there in October.

I was glad I had registered. Another member who had not yet done so said she was spurred to sign up.

It’s not the cliché about the terrorists winning if we don’t go or do or see — not just in El Paso but in any place or among any people who have suffered a horror. It’s about solidarity at a time of sorrow.

Grief, as everyone who has walked the Earth knows, is infinite.

But so is love. Remember that in your darkest moments.

Wherever you are, travel safely and well, and know we’ll be here to welcome you home.