Escapes: In Tecopa, ‘something special is happening’

Boots and a pile of clothing left on the ground by bathers enjoying  a hot spring in Tecopa, Calif.
(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

Here’s a travel writer’s nightmare: You go to a place to chronicle how it’s changed, and nothing has.

But Robert Earle Howells didn’t panic when he arrived in Tecopa, on Death Valley’s doorstep, and saw what he’d seen before. Same buildings, same quirkiness. Still, something was … different.

“Is it on the cusp of change? It’s already changed,” Howells said in an email. “But you wouldn’t know it. You have to seek it out. I think that’s pretty cool.”


My name is Catharine Hamm, and I’m the travel editor for the Los Angeles Times. Tecopa is but one of the discoveries we’ll share in this week’s newsletter. Among the others: seeing the almost supernatural glow that lights up El Capitan in Yosemite, savoring the richness of Iranian culture, finding places that kids will love in Santa Barbara and fathoming why a museum reacted as it did after after the mini-quake that has shaken Buckingham Palace.

All of this plus the End paper, which falls, in a no-duh move, at the end of this newsletter. Carry on.

Little town, big surprise

You wouldn’t expect to find big-time chefs in a little desert town like Tecopa, but Robert Earle Howells did. “It would still be very easy to bypass Tecopa or to drive right through it and not realize that something special is happening there,” he said. “It feels like a discovery. That’s the beauty of it.” And you’ll find beauty in his article — and its photographs by the Times’ Brian van der Brug.

Sunset reflects light off the shallow waters of Grimshaw Lake in Tecopa, Calif.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Is Australia viable as a destination?

In some places, yes. In others, no.

The U.S. State Department raised its assessment of Australia’s danger level from a 1 (“exercise normal precautions”) to a 2 (“exercise increased caution”) because of scores of fires there. They’ve scorched more than 15 million acres, the BBC reports, and killed as many as a billion animals. Weather has cooled and rain has fallen, but one of the lingering issues is smoke, Mary Forgione writes.

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New air service to Taos, N.M.

Now you can access the wonders of skiing in Taos without the hassle of driving, Mary Forgione writes. Taos Air has started flights between L.A. and the New Mexico town that take just two hours.

What’s at stake with Iran’s treasures

In a thoughtful piece, Christopher Reynolds recounts his memories of a 1998 visit to Iran and reflects on what could be lost if tensions erupt. We tend to forget because we don’t often see photos of these beautiful mosques and monuments, but his article is a reminder of the genius of those who long ago created these jaw-dropping beauties by hand.

Twin minarets rise above the unusual three-story facade of the Amir Chakhmaq Mosque in Yazd, Iran.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Everybody into the pool

But you’ll have to wait a few weeks. In Las Vegas, Wet Republic, a ginormous pool party, is doing an equally ginormous remodel, Michael Hiller writes. Better sight lines, better sound systems, better food and drink. And you didn’t think it could get any better that it was.

Let it glow

We tend to be too free with superlatives sometimes. (“That’s awesome!” we exclaim when something that’s supposed to happen actually does happen, like your ride-hail car actually showing up in the promised five minutes.) But if you take a look at the photos of Yosemite’s firefall, this might be one of nature’s grandest wink-of-the-eye sights.

Mary Forgione explains how the late afternoon winter light hits a waterfall and creates the illusion of a lava flow. The window of opportunity to see it lasts about two weeks in February.

"Firefall" at Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park, Calif.
(Dakota Snider / Associated Press)

But be careful what you eat

The feds are trying to figure out what has caused some visitors to Yosemite National Park to experience stomach issues, the Associated Press reports.

The solution at park facilities: cleaning and disinfecting food service areas. Your best defense: If you’ve touched common areas such as railings, wash your hands and sing (in your head, please) “Happy Birthday” while you scrub to be sure you’ve washed long enough.

We know where they stand, in this museum’s eyes

Are you just wild about Harry and Meghan? Apparently Madame Tussauds isn’t. The London museum removed Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex from the happy royal family gathering of wax depictions, leaving a bare spot where they used to stand with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip and Prince William and Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, Mary Forgione writes. This after the two announced they were “stepping back” from their royal responsibilities.

Taking the kidlets

Whether you’re keeping the grandkids for the weekend or just need a break in your parenting routine, Sharon Boorstin has an idea for a great kid-focused getaway to Santa Barbara that involves an interactive museum for children and adults and pedaling a surrey.

Visitors pedal a four-wheel surrey along the Cabrillo Bike Path that skirts the beach in Santa Barbara.
(Paul Boorstin)

The more mistakes the merrier

It’s always nice to know you’re not alone. After my column about my stupid travel mistakes (as opposed to the smart ones?), readers generously shared theirs and continue to do so. We included them in our Letters columns, and we thank all of you for showing your vulnerable sides.

What we’re reading

Age does have its privileges. One is discounts for seniors, longtime consumer columnist Ed Perkins writes for SmarterTravel. He touts senior discounts on British Airways (noting Southwest discontinued them last year) and at Avis and Budget for rental cars. All are available through AARP.

The town of Hallstatt, Austria, wants you to know it isn’t Arendelle. The village has about 800 residents but hosts about a million visitors, thanks to the “Frozen” franchise. The movies and stage musical have prompted fans to want to visit the fictional village of Arendelle, said to be based on Hallstatt, Jayme Deerwester writes for USA Today and NPR reports. “Frozen 2” has prompted another run on the town.

Don’t call the Netherlands “Holland.” The common shorthand for the country has become such an irritant that the Dutch government will no longer use the word in its promotional material, unless referring to the two provinces named South Holland and North Holland, Brigit Katz writes for Smithsonian. It’s also part of an effort to reduce tourism to those provinces, which are home to some of the country’s biggest attractions, including Amsterdam and bulb fields, but are suffering some of the effects of overtourism.

Colors are intense at  Keukenhof gardens in Lisse, Netherlands. Lisse is in South Holland province, but the country is the Netherlands.

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End paper

These are dark days. I’m referring not to the political problems in Washington or the fires in Australia or the volcano in the Philippines, or the uncertainty or unhappiness (or both) in Britain’s royal family. I mean the amount of daylight.

On this day in Los Angeles, you will have 10 hours, 9 minutes and 17 seconds of daylight (which you may not see because rain is forecast). That’s about 14 minutes better than it was on New Year’s Day, and yes, we are now on the lengthening-of-daylight upswing. Hooray.

Even in Southern California, the winter can seem long, despite our beautiful sunsets. (See Mary Forgione’s story that acknowledges what you already know: Sunsets are prettier in winter.)

If you’re still in search of your invincible summer, let me share with you a triumph over self-inflicted adversity from Rob Newman, who wrote after reading the Letters column on dumb and dumber mistakes mentioned above. Here’s what he said:

“I was traveling on an overnight train to Italy, and I overslept as the train passed through my intended arrival city of Florence. I finally woke up from my cozy train bed as our train pulled into the Roma train station — almost two hours beyond Florence.

“Although I hadn’t initially realized it, that day, Aug. 26, 1978, was to be the ‘inauguration day’ of Pope John Paul I. Discovering this, I went to St. Peter’s Square and witnessed Pope John Paul I’s Papal Inauguration.

“Mind you, 33 days later he died, but I was thrilled that I had attended a Papal Inauguration, the only one I’ve ever been to.

“So yes, that was one of the worst travel mistakes I ever made that turned out to (accidentally) be one of the best.”

May you find your summer whenever you need it, travel safely and well and know that we will always be here to welcome you home.